Study on brain shrinkage shifts to Tassie Devils

Feb 14, 2012

The quality of captive breeding enclosures and time spent in them may be crucial to the success of marsupials once released back to the wild, new research suggests.

Victoria University Dr Patrick Guay measured the brains of Stripe-faced Dunnarts – small mouse-sized Australian marsupials – bred in captivity over several generations and found those kept in an enriched environment showed little or no decrease in size.

This is significant as captive-bred animals typically have smaller brains than wild relatives, resulting in poorer skills for nesting, avoiding predators, finding food and rearing young.

“This study on Dunnarts shows the importance of enriched enclosures and, if possible, short-term captivity for successful breeding and returning of endangered animals to the wild,” Dr Guay said. “Hopefully, this will help improve the success of programs for many of our endangered or critically endangered marsupials, including the Tassie Devil”.

The study will now be extended to focus specifically on Tasmanian Devils, which are the focus of a national breeding program at Healesville Sanctuary and other institutions to save them from extinction.

Dr Guay’s new study with Zoos Victoria, the Zoo and Aquarium Association and the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program will measure the skulls of deceased devils from zoos and wildlife parks across Australia to see whether captive-bred devils retain wild brain sizes.

“Reduced brain size may be used as a warning sign,” Dr Guay said. “If we find current captive breeding strategies have led to reduced brain size we need to do something about it before captive bred threatened species, including devils, become domesticated zoo animals that can never be released back into the wild.”

He said the aim of an enriched captive breeding environment was to provide animals with features and activities to stimulate natural behaviours.

Scientists have long thought these factors important to maximise reintroduction success, but Dr Guay’s study on Dunnarts with Zoos Victoria and The University of Melbourne’s Department of Zoology showed the level of brain reduction may be a major reason why.

The Dunnart study will be published in Zoo Biology.

Explore further: Warning coloration paved the way for louder, more complex calls in certain species of poisonous frogs

Provided by Victoria University

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hybrid possum gives endangered species a chance

May 26, 2011

Australian researchers have successfully bred two genetically distinct Mountain Pygmy-possums, playing a major role in preventing the endangered population in the Victorian Alpine region from further decline.

China to release six pandas into wild

Dec 21, 2011

Six captive-bred pandas will be freed into an enclosed forest in southwestern China next year in the first mass release of the highly endangered animals, the official Xinhua news agency said Wednesday.

Researchers urge more prominent role for zoos

Mar 17, 2011

Of around seven land vertebrate species whose survival in the wild is threatened one is also kept in captivity. These and other data on the protection of species in zoos and aquaria have now been revealed ...

Recommended for you

Cat dentals fill you with dread?

16 hours ago

A survey published this year found that over 50% of final year veterinary students in the UK do not feel confident either in discussing orodental problems with clients or in performing a detailed examination of the oral cavity ...

User comments : 0