The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

ScienceShot: Like Devils, Tasmanian Tigers Were Inbred

Marsupials take note: It may not pay to get stuck in Tasmania. That, at least, was the lesson learned by the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus). While the last of these pouched creatures (shown), which looked (and moved) remarkably like domestic dogs, died in 1936, the species was in bad shape long before that, suggests a new study published online today in PLoS ONE. Based on a screen of tissue samples taken from 12 museum specimens collected between 1852 and 1909, researchers report that the animals bore precariously low levels of genetic diversity. In fact, they seemed to be about as inbred as modern Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii), whose low genetic diversity may have made them more susceptible to a fatal and infectious type of tumor that now threatens their survival. Troubles for both species, however, likely began nearly 10,000 years ago when the land bridge connecting Tasmania to Australia flooded, stranding the animals—and their genomes. Still, human settlers, who famously hunted Tasmanian tigers fearing that they would eat livestock, didn't help the animal's fate, either.

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Posted in Plants & Animals, Biology