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When marsupials can't run – Variation in hind limb morphology and implications for escape locomotion in marsupials

Tay, N.E., Warburton, N.M.ORCID: 0000-0002-8498-3053, Bateman, P.W. and Fleming, P.A.ORCID: 0000-0002-0626-3851 (2019) When marsupials can't run – Variation in hind limb morphology and implications for escape locomotion in marsupials. Journal of Morphology, 280 . S228.

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Australian animals have suffered exceptionally high rates of extinction over the last 200 years, with the greatest impact seen in ‘critical weight range’ (CWR; 35g–5.5kg) terrestrial mammals. These declines are probably driven by introduced eutherian predators as CWR species fall within the preferred prey size of feral cats and red foxes. The predation impact of these introduced predators in Australia is more than double that of native predators, likely due to the lack of co‐evolution between predator and prey. Marsupials show marked diversity in how they move during escape (e.g., ‘outrun’ or ‘outmaneuver’), which could make some species more vulnerable to the hunting strategies of eutherian predators than others. This study investigates the effect of morphological variation between CWR species on their locomotor performance during escape. We present a comparative analysis of hind limb myology in nine species of CWR marsupials with representatives of quadrupedal and bipedal taxa. We predicted that differences in muscle morphology would be reflected in locomotor performance (i.e., speed, acceleration, agility). To quantify hind limb morphology, we measured muscle architectural properties including mass, fascicle length and physiological cross‐sectional areas (PCSA) of key muscles, as well as distribution of functional groups and differences in muscle attachments. We compared this muscle data to preliminary escape locomotion data collected from these same species. Differences in both hind limb morphology and escape locomotion between species were found, with species which showed a propensity for jinking (‘outmaneuver’) separating from species that fled in a straight line with a burst of speed (‘outrun’). This preliminary analysis gives us an integrated view of morphology and locomotor behavior to better understand the mechanistic basis of escape performance in CWR marsupials.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Environmental and Conservation Sciences
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Copyright: © 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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