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Digestion, nutrition & metabolism

The use of faecal cuticle examination to determine the dietary composition of koalas

Ellis, W, Carrick, F, Lundgren, P, Veary, A & Cohen, B 1999, Australian Zoologist, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 127-133.

Eucalyptus leaves ingested by captive koalas were present in faecal pellets up to 154 hours after consumption. Dietary composition examination utilising the ‘faecal cuticle analysis’ technique was deemed an appropriate method to identify and estimate quantities of different Eucalyptus spp. in a koala’s diet.

  Two female and two male captive koalas were fed a variety of known Eucalyptus browse species in predetermined proportions. The proportion and variety of species was altered weekly throughout the course of the study. Faecal pellets were collected daily, transformed into slides and analysed for leaf cuticle fragments according to the diagnostic features of each Eucalyptus species. The proportion of consumed leaf was observed in similar proportions in excreted pellets as cuticle fragments of the consumed species appearing after an average of 34 hours and remaining observable even up to 154 hours after consumption. Notably, mixed feeds of E. tereticornis, E. resinifera and C. citriodora showed a disinterest of koalas to C. citrodora and was subsequently removed due to the lack of cuticle fragments observed in pellets. Observations of wild koalas inhabiting and consuming C. citriodora in Brisbane indicate the need for future research into why koalas spend time in trees that do not align with their dietary preferences.

  This study contributes to existing knowledge pertaining to the digestive physiology of the koala as well as highlights the importance of conserving preferred Eucalyptus species in wild koala habitats.

 

Summarised by Lauren Mousley

 

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