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: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

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

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.

Growing app industry has developers racing to keep up

Smartphone application developers say they are challenged by the glut of apps as well as the need to update their software to keep up with evolving phone technology, making creative pricing strategies essential to finding ...