Evolution in action, Tasmanian Devils
A disease that threatens to wipe out the wild population of Tasmanian devils has triggered an abrupt change in their breeding habits, a study shows.
Devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) has led to the animals mating at an unusually young age and females having just one litter, say scientists.
The observed changes in the creatures' life cycle could affect the chances of saving the iconic species, they added.
The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A team of Australian scientists said they believed it to be the first known case of an infectious disease leading to increased early reproduction in a species of mammal.
The researchers, lead by Dr Menna Jones from the University of Tasmania, analysed data from five sites where devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) populations had been studied before and after the arrival of the disease.
"Devils have shown their capacity to respond to this disease-induced increased adult mortality with a 16-fold increase in the proportion of individuals exhibiting precocious sexual maturity," they reported. . . . .