Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 182, Issue 4, pp 469–489

The physiology of the honey possum, Tarsipes rostratus, a small marsupial with a suite of highly specialised characters: a review

Review

DOI: 10.1007/s00360-011-0632-9

Cite this article as:
Bradshaw, D. & Bradshaw, F. J Comp Physiol B (2012) 182: 469. doi:10.1007/s00360-011-0632-9

Abstract

Field and laboratory studies of the iconic nectarivorous and ‘pollenivorous’ honey possum, Tarsipes rostratus, are reviewed with the aim of identifying aspects of its physiology that are as yet poorly understood and needed to implement management strategies for its long-term conservation. Dietary specialisations include the loss of teeth, a modified gut with a high rate of passage, exceptionally low minimum nitrogen requirements, an apparently high basal metabolic rate and a permanently polyuric kidney. In contrast, its reproductive physiology is plesiomorphic, combining aspects such as a post-partum oestrus, embryonic diapause, photoperiodicity and extended maternal care that are usually separate characteristics of other marsupial groups. In common with a number of other marsupials, the honey possum has the potential for trichromatic colour vision and has been the subject of several studies attempting to correlate visual quality with ecological realities. Field physiological studies have established its high rates of nectar and pollen intake needed to maintain energy balance and highlight the need for a constant intake from floral sources. Early allometric studies suggesting that the honey possum’s relatively low reproductive rate may be linked to a diet limited in protein have not been supported and nitrogen intakes in the field exceed by a factor of 10 the animal’s basic requirements for balance. Measurements of rates of protein turnover in field-caught lactating females suggest that they divert nitrogen from the protein pool to milk production by reducing rates of degradation, rather than by increasing rates of synthesis of protein. Although not yet an endangered species, the honey possum’s habitat has been drastically reduced since European occupation of Australia and future-targeted research on the animal’s unique physiology and habitat linkage is needed that can be translated into effective management practices. Only then will its long-term survival be assured.

Keywords

TarsipesPhysiologyReproduction

Abbreviations

BMR

Basal metabolic rate

SMR

Standard metabolic rate

FMR

Field metabolic rate

Tb min

Minimal body temperature in torpor

kb

Biological elimination rate

DLW

Doubly labelled water method

CCK

Cholecystokinin

BPP

Bovine pancreatic polypeptide

MRT

Mean retention time

SNP

Scott National Park

FRNP

Fitzgerald River National Park

OPR

Offspring production rate

N

Nitrogen

MNR

Maintenance nitrogen requirements

MFN

Metabolic faecal nitrogen

EUN

Endogenous urinary nitrogen excretion

BV

Biological value

MWP

Metabolic water production

TDN

Truly digestible nitrogen intake

PM

Progesterone metabolites (progestagens)

E2

Oestradiol-17β

Curea

Clearance of urea

CIN

Clearance of inulin (=GFR)

Curea/CIN

Clearance ratio of urea

RMT

Relative medullary thickness

RMA

Relative medullary area

JMN

Juxtaglomerular nephrons

GFR

Glomerular filtration rate

SWS

Short-wavelength sensitive

MWS

Middle-wavelength sensitive

LWS

Long-wavelength sensitive

UVS

Ultraviolet sensitive

MSP

Microspectrophotometry

VMN

Vomeronasal organ

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Animal Biology and Centre for Native Animal Research (CNAR)The University of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia