How Marsupials Adapt to the Arid Australian Environment

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How Marsupials adapt to the arid Australian Environment


The increasing aridity of the Australian continent over the past 20 million years has favoured organisms that could adapt to dry conditions. Marsupials have developed a variety of behavioural, physiological and morphological adaptations to survive in these arid conditions with little or no food and free water for extended periods of time.

Marsupials living in Australia’s hot arid environment must deal with exposure to extreme conditions such as high temperatures, solar radiation and limited food and water supply. More than 50% of the world’s marsupial species occur only in Australia (Steffen et al 2009), which indicates their ability to adapt to Australian
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Planigales have dorso-ventrally flattened skulls and bodies that allow them to access such soil-crack microhabitats according to Warnecke (2010).

Bounding in kangaroos is an interesting morphological adaptation that provides both physiological and mechanical advantages as discussed by Tyndale-Biscoe (2005). Research suggests that the hopping mechanism may have originally evolved as a means of making rapid vertical jumps to gain rapid acceleration to avoid predators according to Tyndale-Biscoe (2005).

Kangaroos unlike any other group of large mammals have evolved bipedal hopping which is especially useful adaptation for desert species that need to cover extensive distances with minimal energy expenditure. (Tyndale-Biscoe 2005)

Another example of a morphological adaptation which may assist marsupials in arid environments is where newborn marsupials use large, highly developed forelimbs compared with their hind limbs and other body parts to crawl and/or climb unaided to reach the teat as discussed by Cooper (2010) and Steppan (2010).

It is interesting to note that this example of morphological adaptation is consistent with the physiological adaptation relating to lactation in marsupials described earlier.


Wombats provide a very good example of how physiological, behavioural and morphological adaptations can interrelate to ensure survival in Australian arid zones.

Through its ability to grind the same variety of plant