Publication Details

Munn, A. J., Dawson, T. J. & Hume, I. D. (2006). Endogenous nitrogen excretion by red kangaroos (Macropus rufus): Effects of animal age and forage quality. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 79 (2), 424-436.


Red kangaroos (Macropus rufus) are large (>20 kg) herbivorous marsupials common to arid and semiarid Australia. The population dynamics of red kangaroos are linked with environmental factors, operating largely through juvenile survival. A crucial period is the young-at-foot (YAF) stage, when juveniles have permanently left the mother's pouch but still take milk from a teat in the pouch. Forage quantity and quality have been implicated in drought-related mortalities of juvenile kangaroos. Here we compared how forage quality affected nitrogen (N) intake and excretion by YAF, weaned, and mature, non-lactating female red kangaroos. On high-quality forage ( chopped lucerne hay, Medicago sativa) low in neutral-detergent fiber (43% +/- 1%) and high in N (2.9% +/- 0.1%), YAF and weaned kangaroos had ideal growth rates and retained 460-570 mg dietary N kg(-0.75) d(-1). But on poor-quality forage ( chopped oaten hay, Avena sativa) high in neutral-detergent fiber (64% +/- 1%) and low in N (0.9% +/- 0.1%), YAF and weaned kangaroos could not sustain growth and were in negative N balance at -103 +/- 26 mg and -57 +/- 31 mg N kg(-0.75) d(-1), respectively. Notably, the YAF kangaroos excreted 64% of their truly digestible N intake from forage as nondietary fecal N (NDFN). By weaning age, the situation had improved, but the juveniles still lost 40% of their truly digestible N intake as NDFN compared with only 30% by the mature females. Our findings support field observations that forage quality, and not just quantity, is a major factor affecting the mortality of juvenile red kangaroos during drought.



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