Meeting the energy demands of reproduction in female koalas, Phascolarctos cinereus: evidence for energetic compensation
School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, 2006, NSW, Australia
Koalas are generally considered to be limited by their ability to acquire energy from their diet of Eucalyptus foliage and have the lowest mass-speciﬁc peak lactational energy output measured in any mammal to date. This study considered the energetics and sources of energy utilised for reproduction in freeranging female koalas. Energy requirements and foliage intake were greater in both lactating and non-lactating females in winter than summer, presumably due to demands of thermoregulation. Koalas met the peak energy requirements of lactation primarily by a 36% increase in their intake of foliage. Metabolic energy expenditure (ﬁeld metabolic rate, 1778 kJ.day)1 for a 6.25-kg female at the time of peak lactation) was not elevated during lactation. This was due to compensation for part of their lactational demands by reduction of another, nonreproductive, component of their energy budget. The observed energetic compensation was probably due primarily to substitution of the waste heat from the metabolic costs of milk production and increased heat increment of feeding for thermoregulatory energy expenditure. There may also have been energetic compensation by reduction of some aspect of maintenance metabolism. Such energetic compensation, together with the strategy of spreading lactation over a long period, minimises the magnitude of lactational energy demands on koalas, and thus the increase in daily food intake required during lactation. As the nutritional requirements of females at peak lactation are the highest of any members of the population, low reproductive requirements eﬀectively increase the types and amount of habitat able to support koala populations.