Vestibular development in marsupials and monotremes
Ken W. S. Ashwell1 and Boaz Shulruf2
1Department of Anatomy, School of Medical Sciences, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia
2Medical Education, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia
The young of marsupials and monotremes are all born in an immature state, followed by prolonged nurturing by maternal lactation in either a pouch or nest. Nevertheless, the level of locomotor ability required for newborn marsupials and monotremes to reach the safety of the pouch or nest varies considerably: some are transferred to the pouch or nest in an egg (monotremes); others are transferred passively by gravity (e.g. dasyurid marsupials); some have only a horizontal wriggle to make (e.g. peramelid and didelphid marsupials); and others must climb vertically for a long distance to reach the maternal pouch (e.g. diprotodontid marsupials). In the present study, archived sections of the inner ear and hindbrain held in the Bolk, Hill and Hubrecht collections at the Museum f€ur Naturkunde, Berlin, were used to test the relationship between structural maturity of the vestibular apparatus and the locomotor challenges that face the young of these different mammalian groups. A system for staging different levels of structural maturity of the vestibular apparatus was applied to the embryos, pouch young and hatchlings, and correlated with somatic size as indicated by greatest body length. Dasyurids are born at the most immature state, with the vestibular apparatus at little more than the otocyst stage. Peramelids are born with the vestibular apparatus at a more mature state (fully developed semicircular ducts and a ductus reuniens forming between the cochlear duct and saccule, but no semicircular canals). Diprotodontids and monotremes are born with the vestibular apparatus at the most mature state for the non-eutherians (semicircular canals formed, maculae present, but vestibular nuclei in the brainstem not yet differentiated). Monotremes and marsupials reach the later stages of vestibular apparatus development at mean body lengths that lie within the range of those found for laboratory rodents (mouse and rat) reaching the same vestibular stage.