Key Research Topics
The Carnivore Conservancy focuses on research that directly supports the conservation of our study species. We run an extensive field research program comprising eight study sites in northwestern Tasmania, the last stronghold of the Tasmanian devil in the spread of Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD).
We have been monitoring four of our study sites since early 2012, giving us an extensive and long-term dataset that allows us to assess a range of ecological research topics. (Four additional sites were added in 2016.) Among the topics we study are the impact of various disturbance factors (bushfire, logging, road construction and poison baiting for foxes) on devil and quoll populations; the spread of Devil Facial Tumor Disease and its demographic impact on affected sites; and the interactions among populations of various predator and prey species in both diseased and disease-free sites.
There is much still to be learned about Tasmanian devil and quoll behavior, as these species are nocturnal and cryptic, and therefore difficult to observe directly. Understanding wild behaviors is particularly important in the management of the captive devil population. Multiple generations in captivity can lead to the loss of natural behaviors that may be crucial for successful reintroduction to the wild. The more captive institutions know about wild devil behavior, they better they can tailor their husbandry practices to maintain that behavior across multiple captive generations.
Our pilot studies using National Geographic's collar-mounted Crittercam™ video cameras on devils discovered several previously unknown wild devil behaviors. (Read about the pilot here, and watch a short video here.) We will begin regular and ongoing deployment of Crittercams on devils starting in 2017, and expect to learn much more about devil behavior in the process.
We are conducting an extensive study of Tasmanian devils' diet using stable isotope analysis, a technique that can determine from a single drop of blood what prey species a devil has consumed in the preceding 2 to 4 weeks, and what proportion of the animal's overall diet came from each species. By comparing samples from a wide range of animals, we will be able to identify seasonal and geographical differences in diet, as well as dietary variation based on age, sex and reproductive and lactation status. This information will allow zookeepers to tailor captive devils' diet to better reflect what they would likely eat in the wild.
Since beginning our fieldwork in early 2012, we have collected DNA samples from over 900 individual Tasmanian devils. Historically, it has been difficult to map the familial structure of devil populations because the species has very low genetic diversity. With recent advances in geneticists' ability to determine familial relationships from devil DNA, we expect to soon be able to determine the familial structure of the populations we study. This will give us a clearer picture of migration and dispersal patterns and help to determine whether particular lineages may be more or less susceptible to DFTD infection.
sample collection for DFTD researchers
Although we monitor the arrival, spread and demographic and ecological impact of DFTD at our study sites, we do not conduct research into the disease itself, as our focus and expertise are more ecological and behavioral. But we do support the DFTD research of our partner organizations by collecting tumor biopsies and other biological samples.
Channing with devil: Photo © S. Adamczek 2013.
Jean-François with devil: Photo © M. Parrott 2015.
Tasmanian devil joeys: Photo © M. Brown 2014.
Scampering devil: Photo © N. Newell 2014.