Devils suppress invasive species like feral cats and black rats, thus protecting smaller predators and prey animals. With the loss of devils on mainland Tasmania, we are seeing decline of small animals like bandicoots and small native mammals. The loss of the devil’s role in scavenging and removing carcasses from the landscape also benefits feral cats and these ecological changes have cascading effects on biogeochemical cycling in soils and therefore plant growth. So, we are taking a holistic view of how Tasmania’s ecosystems are changing because of this disease.
The progressive loss of the devil from Tasmanian ecosystems, as the facial tumour disease spread east to west across Tasmania, and the addition through conservation translocation of devils to Maria Island, provide a natural experiment by which we are studying the role of the devil in Tasmania as the top predator and scavenger.
Devil Facial Tumour Disease now covers 90% of Tasmania – almost all the devils’ geographic range.