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Tracey Hollings student profile

Tracey Hollings photoMs Tracey Hollings
PhD student

Topic: Assessing the ecosystem consequences of declining devil populations

University of Tasmania

The Tasmanian Devil, Sarcophilus harrisi, is the largest extant marsupial carnivore in the world and is only found on the island state of Tasmania. The devil is now facing extinction with the threat of a transmissible and consistently fatal disease termed Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). This disease was first discovered in 1996 and has since been attributed to nearly 90% decline in population numbers in some areas of the state. The disease currently covers over 50% of the state and is continuing to spread. Despite any advances or developments in the near future to stop or limit the spread of the disease, devil populations are likely to decline over much of the state. The impact of the loss of devil populations is an important issue for the Tasmanian environment as the Tasmanian devil is the top mammalian predator in Tasmania and as such exerts a significant influence in the ecosystems in which it is found.

Tracey Hollings animal handlingThis project aims to quantify the ecosystem consequences of declining devil populations in order to develop and implement appropriate management strategies to alleviate such effects. Information gathered will allow us to: (a) investigate changes to smaller native and introduced carnivores (b) assess changes to prey populations; and (c) examine changes to the health status of these populations with diseased individuals no longer actively controlled by devil predation and also in context of the likely increase in feral cats and a possible associated increase in the protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. Preliminary results from extensive trapping and spotlighting indicate feral cats and quolls are increasing. This study will try to resolve some theories of the role of carnivores in the landscape and identify management priorities to maintain ecosystem function in the absence of the devil.

My supervisors are Professor Hamish McCallum, Dr Menna Jones and Mr Nick Mooney.

I am supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award and a Qantas Tasmanian devil research scholarship. This project is funded by grants from the Dr Eric Guiler Tasmanian devil research, Holsworth Wildlife Research Trust and ESA.

This project is part of the CRC for Forestry Biodiversity Project (4.2), subproject 4.2.5 on management of forest species of high conservation significance, including threatened species. To browse other PhD projects available with the Biodiversity Project, click here