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Devil Is in the DNA

Credit: Rodrigo Hamede, School of Zoology, University of Tasmania

Death of the devil usually occurs only 6 months after tumours first appear. This is often caused by starvation as the devils are unable to feed themselves. Credit: Rodrigo Hamede, School of Zoology, University of Tasmania

By Katrina Morris

Ancient DNA is helping shed light on why the Tasmanian devil is being driven to extinction.

Katrina Morris is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Tens of thousands of years ago, devils roamed widely across mainland Australia. However, since this time they have been on a downward spiral, and today this iconic species is heading towards extinction. What is bringing about the downfall of the world largest remaining marsupial carnivore?

Humans first arrived in Australia around 50,000 years ago and rapidly spread across the continent. Rock art depicting devils has been found as far north as the Kakadu National Park.

Later, dingoes were introduced from South-East Asia by humans 5000 to 10,000 years ago. The dingoes dispersed across the mainland of Australia but never reached Tasmania, which was separated from mainland Australia around 10,000 years ago.

About 3000 years ago, devils disappeared from the mainland. The reason for this extinction is a mystery.

The devil’s demise has been largely blamed on the introduction of dingoes, which are able to outcompete devils. However, some have argued that other factors also played a large role in driving the devils from the mainland.

The mainland of Australia was becoming drier, which would have left less suitable habitat for devils. Around the time of the devil’s mainland extinction there were also technological developments in the aboriginal population that may have allowed them to hunt devils more effectively and compete with the devils...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.