Diversity of the

Australian Marsupials

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Order: Dasyuromorphia.

Order: Notoryctemorphia.

Order: Peramelemorphia.

Order: Diprotodontia

The most diverse and disparate marsupial order, this includes many well-known families such as kangaroos, the koala, wombats and a diverse range of possums. It also contains a range of very distinctive extinct families such as the lion sized marsupial lion, the tapir-like palorchestids and the rhino-sized Diprotodon.

A brief look at some of the more famous families gives an indication of the diversity present within the Diprotodontia. The macropodids (which include the kangaroos) live in a very wide range of habitats (woodlands, forests, rocky outcrops, cliffs and plains) and with their lightened, long limbs and reduced toes are able to escape predators by covering large distances of open ground at speed. They also move by hopping, with a very strong, elongated fourth toe on the hind foot serving to propel the kangaroo forward before it lands on it fore limbs and tail.

Kangaroo (37K)
A Red Kangaroo, Macropus rufus

By contrast koalas, which mainly inhabit eucalypt forests in eastern Australia, are arboreal grazers. They are well designed for life in trees, able to grip the smooth eucalypt trees with strongly recurved foreclaws and use their powerful forearms to pull themselves up. Once up there, their opposable first and second digits on their fore limbs enable them to grip twigs and leaves. However they can only move slowly on all four limbs when on the ground.

The fact that wombats are most closely related to koalas again emphasises the diversity within this order. Instead of living in trees, they live in burrows, using their powerful forearms to dig and pushing away loose sediment with their hind limbs. Also, whilst they normally move slowly on the ground to conserve energy, when required they can reach speeds of up to 40km per hour. Similarly to koalas, they feed on vegetation. However, instead of opposable first and second digits on their fore limbs, they use their dextrous feet to pick up vegetation and pass it to their mouths.

Order: Yalkaparidontia.