University of Sydney joins forces with Taronga Zoo

12 September 2014

Researchers from the University of Sydney‘s Charles Perkins Centre have joined forces with Taronga Zoo for a world-first study on the eating habits of endangered Tasmanian devils and fat-tailed dunnarts.
It is hoped the study will allow zookeepers to design diets that boost captive breeding programs to help save the Tasmanian devils and other carnivorous marsupials from extinction.

University of Sydney Veterinary School
The Tasmanian devil is considered an endangered species

Understanding the animals’ own food choices at different life stages will allow researchers to purpose build diets to support breeding, said Professor David Raubenheimer, lead researcher on the study.
“We are allowing dunnarts to manipulate their own diets, and measuring the overall diet they target when faced with foods that vary in nutritional composition, as is the case in the wild,” said Professor Raubenheimer, Leonard P Ullmann Chair of Nutritional Ecology at the Charles Perkins Centre and a Professor in the Sydney Faculty of Veterinary Science and School of Biological Sciences.
“Once we have a good understanding of the nutritional processes underlying the animals’ optimum diets, we’ll be in a position to manipulate them to regulate their nutrition in a way that achieves the desired outcomes for captive breeding programs.
“Ultimately it’s about obtaining a deeper understanding of carnivore nutrition, an understanding that then can be used in managing captive carnivores for conservation purposes,” Professor Raubenheimer said.
The study is the world’s first to measure how wild predators regulate their intake of protein, fats and carbohydrates to manage breeding, and uses an innovative nutritional geometry approach.
Pioneered by Charles Perkins Centre researchers, nutritional geometry provides a framework to model the effects of nutrients on food choice and food intake, and in turn how their diet influences development, health and reproduction. The approach has been used to analyse the feeding behaviours of many species, including pandas, mice, dogs and cats, locusts, flies, spider monkeys, gorillas, grizzly bears and humans.

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