Devil release (Tom Demmery). Image courtesy of Michelle Power.
Devil release (Tom Demmery). Image courtesy of Michelle Power.

Even devils have parasites

Facial Tumours aren’t the only transmissible disease impacting on Tasmanian Devils. Associate Professor Michelle Power and her team have been investigating the ecosystem of microbes devils carry around with them.

New types of Giardia and Cryptosporodium were found by Macquarie researchers. These are likely new parasite species and may only be found in devils. Not only are the Tasmanian Devils endangered, but their parasites might be too.

“Parasites are renowned for their ability to cause disease,” said Michelle, “but these organisms are integral to the ecology of their hosts and the biodiversity of the planet.”

As we lose our wildlife species we also lose their microbiomes, which in many cases carry unique parasites of which very little is known.

Luckily, Macquarie has a group who care about devils and their parasites. Liana Wait studied the parasites in devils for her Masters of Research at Macquarie University with Michelle, and collaborated with Samantha Fox and Sarah Peck from the Save the Devil Program (Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, Tasmania) .

This group not only discovered these unique parasites but also found a human strain of Giardia that had crossed over into the devils. Likely transmitted through infected water, the detection of a strain called Giardia duodenalis BIV points the finger at a recent human-to-devil transmission event.

Contaminated water is the likely origin with the dispersal of wastewater or humans swimming when suffering diarrhoea possible causes.

“These parasites are not part of their wild habit”, said Michelle while talking about the devils.

Macquarie’s research will inform efforts to conserve the devils and their parasites, leading to better movement of devils between breeding facilities, captive and wild sites. When we move the devils, we’re also moving their parasites.