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The Digestive Physiology Of Marsupials


Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition, University of New England, Armidale, N.S.W. 2351, Australia


Interest in the digestive physiology of marsupials stems from the fact that, with few exceptions, every feeding type and digestive strategy found among the 18 extant orders of the Eutheria is found within the three marsupial orders Polyprotodontia, Paucituber- culata and Diprotodontia. The arrival in Europe of specimens of previously unknown marsupials from Australia caused a great deal of excitement among the anatomists of the nineteenth century. Foremost among them were Home (1814) and Owen (1839-47, 1868). Others followed, including Schaefer and Wil- liams (1876), Oppel (1896) Mitchell (1916) and MacKenzie (1918). After this initial flurry of excite- ment little was done on the gut anatomy of mar- supials until the period of intense interest by the phy- siologists began in the 1950’s. It was the appearance of the first paper on digestive physiology of a macropodid marsupial by Moir et al. (1956) that did much to stimulate the interest of other physiologists in Australian marsupials, and to re- kindle the interest of comparative anatomists. It is now an appropriate time to review the developments of the past 25 yr. In doing so, emphasis will be placed on the relationship between the form and function of the digestive system of the various marsupial groups that have so far been studied.