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Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease


The Tasmanian devil is a carnivorous marsupial, endemic to the island state of Tasmania. The tasmanian devil is currently listed as an endangered species; the most significant threat to the species is the dramatic impact of Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease (DFTD).


DFTD is a new and unusual wildlife disease, in that the tumour
cells themselves are the infective agent. The tumour appears to spread via biting, with tumour cells evading the immune system.


DFTD was first detected in 1996, in Tasmanian devils in the northeast part of the island. Since then, the disease has spread 80% of the way across Tasmania, causing upwards of 90% of declines in populations affected the longest, and reducing the total population size by 60-80%.


DFTD always appears to be fatal and is caused by an infectious cell line. Remarkably, devils show high susceptibility to this transmissible cancer, which is likely due to decreased genetic variability caused by past population bottlenecks and current anthropogenic stressors.

The aims of our work are to understand:


  • Does variation in transmission within and among host populations prevent extinction?

  • How does molecular variation in host and tumor influence individual-level susceptibility and thereby transmission and population persistence?

  • Can we model, in a predictive fashion, transmission in new host populations?


Our work is funded by


National Science Foundation (NSF), United States of America (DEB-1316549). "Emergence, transmission and evolution of Tasmanian devil facial tumor Disease".


Collaborators include


  • Professor Andrew Storfer, Washington State University

  • Associate Professor Menna Jones, University of Tasmania

  • Dr Elizabeth Murchison, University of Cambridge

  • Assistant Professor Paul Hohenlohe, University of Idaho


Useful references


  • Hollings, T., Jones, M., Mooney, N. & McCallum, H. (2014) Trophic cascades following the disease-induced decline of an apex predator, the Tasmanian devil. Conserv Biol, 28, 63-75.

  • Hamede R.K., McCallum H. & Jones M. (2013). Biting injuries and transmission of Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease. J. Anim. Ecol., 82, 182-190.

  • McCallum H. (2008). Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease: lessons for conservation biology. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 23, 631-637.

  • Lachish, S., Jones, M.E. & McCallum, H.I. (2007) The impact of devil facial tumour disease on the survival and population growth rate of the Tasmanian devil. Journal of Animal Ecology, 76, 926-936.

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