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Tasmanian devils place their hopes for survival in early reproduction

2008.07.29 Hisayo Takada

Tasmanian devil, a carnivorous marsupial found only in Australia, is under threat of extinction. Their population has decreased sharply due to the rapid spread of an infectious facial cancer. According to the research results published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, females are breeding much earlier because of the disease.

Until now, females gave birth from around age of 2 or 3, and continued to give birth until about age 5. However, in the east coast region of the island state of Tasmania, because the disease has spread, it has been confirmed that devils older than 1 have almost all but disappeared and that there are more females giving birth at earlier age. "Devils have shown their capacity to respond to this disease-induced increased adult mortality with a 16-fold increase in the proportion of individuals exhibiting precocious sexual maturity. " reports the research group led by zoologist, Dr. Menna Jones (the University of Tasmania).

Scientists believe that the devils are infected with the cancer from bite wounds, which occur mostly during the mating season. Since the devils die within several months after infection, increasingly the devils have only 1 chance to reproduce. The researchers believe that this discovery may be the first case example of mammals that have changed their reproduction habits (timing) in order to adapt to the threat of a looming infectious disease.

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Australia (Asia/Oceania

Hisayo Takada

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