student profile: Miss Holly Cope


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Thesis work

Thesis title: Reproductive and Genetic Management of Individuals within Conservation Programs: Implementing a new approach

Supervisors: Catherine HERBERT , Peter WHITE , Carolyn HOGG

Thesis abstract:

Captive breeding programs play an increasingly significant role in conservation programs, providing program managers with the challenge of preventing over-crowding of an endangered species, whilst also maintaining genetic and behavioural integrity of the population. This project aims to assess the implementation of a new approach to the reproductive and genetic management of individuals in conservation programs. A long-acting contraceptive implant to manage reproduction in intensively housed and free-ranging Tasmanian devils within the captive insurance population will be examined. This insurance population was established in 2006 due to the threat of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). Female devils treated with contraceptives were selected based on their genetic profile with the aim of maximising the genetic benefit per breeding event, without expending resources on offspring of low genetic value to the population. This novel use of contraceptives also enables animals to be group housed, thus facilitating expression of natural behaviours and maintaining their natural host flora and fauna in preparation for reintroduction to the wild. Trials are underway to compare the relative efficiency of two dosages (4.7 mg and 9.4 mg) of the Suprelorin® contraceptive implant, and to assess the behavioural impacts on treated animals held in various housing designs. A GnRH challenge is being used to test the hormonal competence of female devils treated with either a high or low dose contraceptive, and held in intensive housing. From this testing we hope to determine the efficacy and duration of effect of the two dosages in order to recommend the optimal dosage for future management procedures. Reproductive success and behavioural trials following contraception are also being conducted in free-range enclosures and on Maria Island. The desired long-term outcome of this research is to develop a standard operating procedure for the management of breeding within insurance and reintroduced populations.

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