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Classroom Resources: Cancer on a Whole Species

By Cynthia Mills
January-March 2008 / Vol. 9 No. 1

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Discussion Questions

  • What has been the role of Nick Mooney in conservation of the Tasmanian devil? Is his work a role model for informed action on behalf of biodiversity? Is he like the “physician” mentioned in the last paragraph?
  • What is a marsupial? Where do they live? What is convergent evolution?
  • How is this case of infectious tumors a great example of the phenomenon of “inbreeding depression”?
  • Do you think that this statement at the bottom of page 29 true?: “In the field of conservation biology…disease is a natural part of the ecology of a species. Populations suffer declines but not extinctions.”
  • What is an “extinction vortex”?

Websites for Further Information

Tasmanian Devils in the News

  1. Disease-free devil population grows (ABC News, February 28th, 2008):
  2. International bid to save devils (BBC News, October 22nd, 2007):

Peer-reviewed Literature

  • Hawkins, C.E., Baars, C., Hesterman, H., Hocking, G.J., Jones, M.E., Lazenby, B., Mann, D., Mooney, N., Pemberton, D., Pyecroft, S., Restani, M., Wiersma, J. 2006. Emerging disease and population decline of an island endemic, the Tasmanian devil Sarcophilus harrisii. Biological Conservation 131:307-324.
  • Murgia, C., Pritchard, J., Kim, S., Fassati, A., Weiss, R. 2006. Clonal origin and evolution of a transmissable cancer. Cell: 126:477-487.

Key Concepts

  • Inbreeding depression
  • Wildlife disease
  • Translating knowledge into conservation action
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