The chemical clues in the Tasmanian devil’s beard reveal their foraging habits, the study said

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c72fb3e318b59f6 - The chemical clues in the Tasmanian devil's beard reveal their foraging habits, the study said

the long beards of these marsupials have chemical marks on the food they have eaten in the past – these records can help tell broader stories about their foraging habits, habitat use and how they respond to environmental changes

researchers have now mapped this time scale for the first time, indicating that the beard of the “Tasmanian devil” can capture seasonal dietary changes for at least 9 months, possibly as long as a year

the research results recently published in biosphere provide a method to monitor endangered native species with minimal disturbance to their habitats

Tracey Rogers, senior author of the study and professor of science at the University of New South Wales, said: “we are using the Tasmanian devil’s beard to trace time.”

“once dissected, these whiskers can depict what animals ate a year ago and how they lived like tree rings.”

The chemical clues in the Tasmanian devil’s beard reveal their foraging habits, the study said

so far, tracking the badger’s foraging habits with its beard is a bit like using a disordered time machine: scientists can see chemical records, but they can’t confirm whether they came from a week, a month or a year ago

in order to better understand the timeline, the research team led by the University of New South Wales fed tablets rich in heavy stable isotopes to six captive devils at three-month intervals — these atomic types will not decay into other elements over time. These stable isotopes act as time stamps, marking the beard as each season passes

after more than a year, the research team took the longest beard from each animal for analysis. They found that the beard grew quickly at first, then slowed down, and the beard in different parts of their mouth grew to different maximum lengths. On average, the longest whiskers preserve the animal’s ecological history for at least nine months – but as beard growth slows over time, researchers think they are likely to last for a year

the research team used their findings to create a new beard analysis model, which can help track the situation of these endangered animals recently brought to the brink of extinction in the wild

“the number of Tasmanian demons is currently recovering after it was devastated by a highly contagious cancer called’demon facial oncosis’ (DFTD),” said lead author Dr. Marie Attard, a postdoctoral research assistant at Royal Holloway College, University of London, This work was completed while studying for a doctorate at the University of New South Wales

“since the discovery of this disease in the 1990s, many healthy individuals have been transferred to disease-free areas or become part of captive breeding programs to help increase their numbers.”

“this beard analysis tool will greatly improve their management level in original and transferred wild populations.”

The chemical clues in the Tasmanian devil’s beard reveal their foraging habits, the study said(1)

Professor Rogers said: “the advantage of hard tissues is that they can no longer change – they are basically dead cells.” One of the main benefits of this method is that it collects this information with minimal interference to the animal habitat: picking it once a year may have a deeper understanding of the lifestyle of the “Tasmanian devil” than a week-long observation trip

The scientists can further improve their research by measuring the number of samples in this cycle

researchers using this method should also pull out only one beard at a time, because beard is very important for “Tasmanian demons” to experience their surroundings

DFTD is a disease that destroys the “Tasmanian devil” population, and its behavior is different from any type of cancer known to humans. In fact, this type of cancer — that is, infectious cancer — is rare in nature

Professor Rogers said: “there are only three infectious cancers in mammals. Sadly, DFTD is one of them.”

the disease spreads rapidly among the “Tasmanian demon” population and is transmitted among animals because they bite each other during combat. Since its discovery in 1996, it has destroyed many Tasmanian badger populations

researchers have designed different conservation programs to help minimize the spread of infection and protect the species, such as helping to increase the number of individuals by relocating them to disease-free areas or creating captive breeding programs

Dr. Attard said that these findings can help these conservation efforts, whether by identifying changes in individual diet and habitat preferences in wild populations or helping conservationists select appropriate Tasmanian devils for transfer

she said: “as Tasmanian’s top predator, Tasmanian devils play an important role in maintaining ecosystem health.”

“the information we can get from studying their whiskers can help conservationists protect the current Tasmanian population and successfully reintroduce them into the wild.”

“these hard tissues have locked in stable isotopes, so just one of our hair samples can tell us what we ate when it grew.”

there are only three types of infectious cancers in mammals — and DFTD is one of them

in humans, hair follicle analysis can be used in medical research and long-term drug testing. But in animals, this test method can help us learn more about animals’ foraging habits, seasonal dietary changes and how they respond to environmental changes