An iconic Australian animal's fate has been in the news this week, as a study suggests that Tasmanian devils could be rapidly evolving to protect themselves against an infectious face cancer that has brought them to the brink of extinction. The Tasmanian devil is a key carnivore in this part of Australia, and is covered in detail in a recent book by CSIRO Publishing.

The Tasmanian devil population has declined by over 80% in only 20 years, caused predominantly by a cancer known as devil facial tumour disease (DFTD). The infectious cancer works by transferring a single tumour between hosts, which happens when the aggressive Tasmanian devils bite each other during social interaction. However, a new study, published in the journal Nature Communications brings hope, uncovering signs that the devils are beginning to defend themselves against the disease through evolving cancer-fighting genes. Click here to read more.

Not only are Tasmanian devils an iconic part of Tasmanian culture, attracting tourists to Australia, but their presence as carnivores and apex predators is hugely important in maintaining the country’s rich biodiversity. For example, as the Tasmanian devil population has decreased, more vulnerable animals such as the eastern quoll have also declined rapidly, due to the increased numbers of predators that would normally be kept under control by the Tasmanian devil.

Carnivores of Australia

The importance of apex predators and carnivores is explored in detail in Carnivores of Australia, published by CSIRO Publishing. The Australian continent provides an interesting case study of the impact of carnivores, as since European settlement, the thylacine - otherwise known as the Tasmanian tiger or wolf - has become extinct (1936), and others, including the Tasmanian devil, have suffered dramatic population decline. Carnivores of Australia explores the factors behind these declines, as well as the astonishing success of recently introduced predators such as the fox and the cat, and their devastating impact on local biodiversity. Covering mammalian, reptilian, and avian carnivores, both native and introduced into Australia, it is an important reference for anyone wishing to understand the impact carnivores have on their surrounding ecosystem, as in the case of the Tasmanian devil.