Placental Ruminants And Herbivorous Marsupials Of Australia

3724 words - 15 pages

Placental Ruminants and Herbivorous Marsupials of Australia

The marsupial animal species that have evolved on the isolated continent of Australia are unique compared to the rest of the animal kingdom in many ways due to the harsh and distinctive environment found on the continent. The major area of marsupial biology that distinguishes them from all other eutherian mammals is their mode of reproduction. However, it can be said that there are many other areas in which unique differences can be seen between marsupials and eutherian mammals; one such area of adaptation is in the anatomy and physiology of digestion, which distinguishes them from many other similar animals worldwide.

The foregut fermenters, such as kangaroos and wallabies, evolved in regions of poor forage quality to be able to extract the most nutrients out of the poorest feeds. Fermentation in the foregut has many advantages over hindgut fermentation, which is seen in marsupials such as the koalas and wombats. The anatomy and physiology of the digestive tracts of both types of fermenters, however, are uniquely suited to their individual modes of nutrition.

It can be suggested that the foregut fermenters of the marsupials are very similar to the eutherian ruminants, as both types of adaptations are designed to increase fiber digestibility and increase nutrient absorption. However, there are many major differences between the two groups. Ruminants have developed a four-chambered stomach system, which is not seen in the marsupials, as well as a rumination cycle which allows for the rechewing of previously ingested meals. While regurgitation may be evident in marsupials, it is, however, not analogous to rumination, and is instead called “merycism.” There is little evidence that this is necessary in marsupials, while the rumination cycle is the key to digestion in ruminants.

Introduction

While marsupial species can be found in both North and South America, neither can compare to the marsupial diversity of the isolated continent of Australia. With 180 Australian marsupial species, as opposed to 78 South American and 1 North American species, the ecological niches filled by marsupials in Australia are many and varied due to the lack of native eutherian mammals on the continent. Australian marsupials evolved special adaptations to survive in the harsh and distinctive environment found on the continent. The major area of marsupial biology that distinguishes them from all other eutherian mammals is their mode of reproduction. However, it can be said that there are many other areas in which unique differences can be seen between marsupials and eutherian mammals; one such area of adaptation is in the anatomy and physiology of digestion, which distinguishes them from many other similar animals worldwide. This paper will give a brief overview of the evolution and history of marsupials in Australia, and then compare the digestive systems adaptations of...

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