University of Tasmania

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Comparative landscape genetics reveals differential effects of environment on host and pathogen genetic structure in Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) and their transmissible tumour

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 20:08 authored by Kozakiewicz, CP, Ricci, L, Patton, AH, Stahlke, AR, Hendricks, SA, Margres, MJ, Ruiz Aravena, M, David HamiltonDavid Hamilton, Rodrigo Hamede RossRodrigo Hamede Ross, McCallum, H, Menna JonesMenna Jones, Hohenlohe, PA, Storfer, A
Genetic structure in host species is often used to predict disease spread. However, host and pathogen genetic variation may be incongruent. Understanding landscape factors that have either concordant or divergent influence on host and pathogen genetic structure is crucial for wildlife disease management. Devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) was first observed in 1996 and has spread throughout almost the entire Tasmanian devil geographic range, causing dramatic population declines. Whereas DFTD is predominantly spread via biting among adults, devils typically disperse as juveniles, which experience low DFTD prevalence. Thus, we predicted little association between devil and tumour population structure and that environmental factors influencing gene flow differ between devils and tumours. We employed a comparative landscape genetics framework to test the influence of environmental factors on patterns of isolation by resistance (IBR) and isolation by environment (IBE) in devils and DFTD. Although we found evidence for broad‐scale costructuring between devils and tumours, we found no relationship between host and tumour individual genetic distances. Further, the factors driving the spatial distribution of genetic variation differed for each. Devils exhibited a strong IBR pattern driven by major roads, with no evidence of IBE. By contrast, tumours showed little evidence for IBR and a weak IBE pattern with respect to elevation in one of two tumour clusters we identify herein. Our results warrant caution when inferring pathogen spread using host population genetic structure and suggest that reliance on environmental barriers to host connectivity may be ineffective for managing the spread of wildlife diseases. Our findings demonstrate the utility of comparative landscape genetics for identifying differential factors driving host dispersal and pathogen transmission.


National Institutes of Health


Publication title

Molecular Ecology










School of Natural Sciences


Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Place of publication

9600 Garsington Rd, Oxford, England, Oxon, Ox4 2Dg

Rights statement

© 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Control of pests, diseases and exotic species in terrestrial environments