Tasmanian Devil Ecology

Olivia Bell’s research aims to investigate the impact of Tasmanian devil declines on the diet and trophic ecology of the four Tasmanian mammalian predator species: the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), spotted-tailed quoll (Dasyurus maculatus), eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus) and the introduced feral cat (Felis catus).

Olivia & DevilTasmanian devil populations have been in decline since 1996 due to the emergence of the fatal transmissible cancer Devil Facial Tumour Disease. In some areas, the population has declined by up to 90%. This has resulted in trophic cascade; where the competitively dominant Tasmanian devils have declined, invasive feral cats are increasing in number, posing potential negative implications for native species and biodiversity.

As changes in the abundance of dominant competitors can influence the diets and niches of populations, Olivia is applying stable isotope analysis as a method to understand the relationship between the population density of Tasmanian devils and the trophic ecology of Tasmanian mammalian predators.

Aims

  1. To investigate the diet and trophic niche of Tasmanian devils using stable isotope analysis, in particular the potential drivers of dietary differences, such as age, sex or individual specialisation
  2. To investigate how population density and demography influences the diet and isotopic niche of Tasmanian devils
  3. To understand how Tasmanian devil population density and associated trophic cascades influence the isotopic niches of other predator species, particularly the spotted tailed quoll and the feral cat, and areas of niche overlap between these competitor species.

Team

Olivia Bell (University of Exeter)

Professor Robbie McDonald (University of Exeter)

Professor Stuart Bearhop (University of Exeter)

Associate Prof Menna Jones (University of Tasmania)

Dr Sarah Perkins (Cardiff University)

Sponsors

This project is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council as part of the NERC Great Western 4+ (GW4+) Doctoral Training Partnership.

GW4