Monday, July 14, 2008

Devil disease prompts early breeding

A research team has found many tasmanian devils have responded to the facial tumour disease by breeding earlier.

In parts of Tasmania up to 90 per cent of the devil population has been wiped out by a contagious cancer-like facial tumour disease.

Researchers from Tasmania and the Australian National University studied devils at five sites around Tasmania.

They noted a 16-fold increase in early sexual maturity since the disease began killing off devils more than a decade ago.

It says before the disease emerged, females tended to begin breeding at two years of age, producing a litter each year for three years. But now females generally breed only once, many at a younger age, and may not survive long enough to raise the litter.

The researchers believe it is the first known case of an infectious disease leading to increased early reproduction in a mammal.

The report says reduced competition for food due to population decline may cause faster growth in devils, leading to early breeding. It says a decrease in competition from older females could also play a role.

The researchers say while early breeding offers some hope for the species, its prospects remain uncertain.

The report has been published in an international science magazine, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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