Anatomy and development of the koala, Phascolarctos cinereus : an evolutionary perspective on the superfamily Vombatoidea
Theodore I. Grand · Perry S. Barboza
Departments of Pathology and Zoological Research, National Zoological Park, Washington, DC 20008, USA
Fifteen koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) – 5 pouched young from 4 to 6.5 months and 10 adults from 5 to 16.5 years – were analyzed for functional parameters (body composition, limb segment and muscle mass, post-cranial skeletal characters) and developmental expressions (growth of body, brain, musculature). These data were compared with a convergent eutherian, the three-toed sloth, Bradypus infuscatus, and with the koala’s distant (Macropodid; wallabies) and proximate (Vombatid; wombats) marsupial relatives. Musculoskeletal structures correlated with sitting and climbing; the growth of the young and the physiological demands of adulthood correlated with the low-quality diet of Eucalyptus foliage. The gestalt of the ancestral Vombatoids (pronograde quadrupeds, generalist browsers and social conservatives with low basal metabolism and attenuated development) provided the baseline essential for their locomotor and nutritional divergence into arboreal browsers, the koalas, and fossorial grazers, the wombats.