Tasmania’s iconic devils are adapting to a facial tumour disease which has been decimating the marsupial’s population.
Left untreated, the contagious cancer kills the animals, but there is hope the Tasmanian devil can adapt genetically to the disease, according to new research published on Thursday.
“All the evidence suggests that devils have the capacity to adapt to this transmissible cancer at genetic and phenotypic levels,” report co-author Dr Rodrigo Hamede said.
The devils have been adapting to the disease over the past 20 years and that change was evidence of natural selection in action, Dr Hamede said.
“The prospects for devils were very grim only a few years ago and the threat of local extinction was real,” he said.
The researcher said the animals were unlikely to become extinct because of the disease but more research is needed.
The study was published in BioEssays with research supported by the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal, and local and international research agencies.