Oecologia

, Volume 137, Issue 2, pp 171–180

The field energetics and water fluxes of free-living wombats (Marsupialia: Vombatidae)

Ecophysiology

Abstract

Wombats are large, fossorial, herbivorous marsupials exhibiting physical and behavioural characteristics indicative of extreme energy conservation. Previous energetics studies have been limited to their basal metabolism under laboratory conditions; little is known of the energetics of free-living wombats. We measured seasonal field metabolic rates (FMR) and water fluxes in the three species of free-living wombat using the doubly labelled water technique, to further investigate the extent of energy conservation in the Vombatidae. Measurements were taken during the wet and dry annual extremes of their characteristically harsh environments, which corresponded to seasonal extremes of food and water availability. Seasonal FMRs for all wombat species were lower than that recorded for other marsupials and well below that predicted for herbivorous mammals. Dry-season FMR of Lasiorhinus kreftii was 40% of that predicted for a mammal. Wombats maintained energy balance during the poor season by reducing FMR to about half that of the good season. Water flux rates during the dry season for the arid-adapted Lasiorhinus are amongst the lowest recorded for mammals, being only 25% of that predicted for a similarly sized herbivorous mammal. These low water flux rates enable wombats in semi-arid areas to maintain water balance without drinking. Estimated food and nitrogen intake rates were also low. We conclude that the energetically frugal lifestyle of the Vombatidae is amongst the most extreme for mammals.

Keywords

Marsupial Lasiorhinus Vombatus Water turnover Metabolic rate 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ecosystem ManagementUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Environmental BiologyUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  3. 3.Wildlife Research and MonitoringEnvironment ACTLynehamAustralia

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