Publication Details

Russell, T., Lisovski, S., Olsson, M., Brown, G., Spindler, R., Lane, A., Keeley, T., Hibbard, C., Hogg, C. J., Thomas, F., Belov, K., Ujvari, B. & Madsen, T. (2018). MHC diversity and female age underpin reproductive success in an Australian icon; the Tasmanian Devil. Scientific Reports, 8 4175-1-4175-8.


Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), a highly contagious cancer, has decimated Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) numbers in the wild. To ensure its long-term survival, a captive breeding program was implemented but has not been as successful as envisaged at its launch in 2005. We therefore investigated the reproductive success of 65 captive devil pair combinations, of which 35 produced offspring (successful pairs) whereas the remaining 30 pairs, despite being observed mating, produced no offspring (unsuccessful pairs). The devils were screened at six MHC Class I-linked microsatellite loci. Our analyses revealed that younger females had a higher probability of being successful than older females. In the successful pairs we also observed a higher difference in total number of heterozygous loci, i.e. when one devil had a high total number of heterozygous loci, its partner had low numbers. Our results therefore suggest that devil reproductive success is subject to disruptive MHC selection, which to our knowledge has never been recorded in any vertebrate. In order to enhance the success of the captive breeding program the results from the present study show the importance of using young (2-year old) females as well as subjecting the devils to MHC genotyping.

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