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Reproduction in the agile wallaby macropus agilis in the tropical lowlands of the northern territory australia opportunism in a seasonal environment

Reproduction in the agile wallaby macropus agilis in the tropical lowlands of the northern territory australia opportunism in a seasonal environment

Australian Journal of Ecology 7(3): 261-278

The agile wallaby, M. agilis, abounds on the tropical lowlands of the Northern Territory (12.degree. 30'-13.degree.S). During the rainy season, much of the wallaby's major habitat, the extensive coastal plains adjacent to the rivers, becomes flooded. The agile wallaby breeds continuously in captivity but not necessarily so in the wild, although fecundity was high. Reproduction was more successful on fertilized, nitrogenous pastures of farmland than on grasses of lower nutritive value. Breeding declined least (5%) in the dry season droughts as pastures dwindled and dried out, and most (> 45% in 1 yr) during the rainy season in bushland where the dry season feeding grounds were inundated. The quicker the open riverine plains were flooded, the higher the loss of breeding and the mortality of pouch-young. The mortality rates of young were similar on both improved and native pastures with only .apprx. 35% of newborn surviving to 7 mo. in the pouch. Wallabies on the improved pastures were at higher densities than on the native pastures which may have influenced that mortality. That females became anestrous during pregnancy, subsequently gave birth but did not have the usual post-partum estrus makes the agile wallaby similar to the desert red kangaroo, M. rufus, in its method of entering anestrus. Anestrous lactating females can return to estrus later. The agile wallaby is only the 2nd macropodid marsupial for which these adaptations have been described. Such an adaptation in a desert species has a clear reproductive advantage which is not obvious in this tropical macropodid. Unlike the agile wallaby, the Asiatic water-buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) and domestic cattle (Bos taurus and B. indicus) have been introduced to its range breed and give birth during the rains. Such is the reproductive pattern in the tropical ruminants of East Africa. Seasonal breeding is phylogenetically possible in macropodid marsupials because southern species M. fuliginosus, M. eugenii, M. r. rufogriseus and Setonix brachyurus do so in the mediterranean environment. They time their breeding so that young leave the pouch when pastures are flush after the winter rains. The suggested reason for these differences in breeding of macropodids is seasonal unpredictability. For the tropical agile wallaby, the unpredictability can cause an absolute shortage or absolute abundance of food in the usual dry season depending on the length of the rainy season and on unseasonal cyclonic weather. It can also cause a relative shortage of food in the rainy season due to flooding of the best feeding grounds. Reproduction in the wild mainly depends on the quantity and quality of the food supply.

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