Water use and feeding patterns of the marsupial western grey kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus melanops) grazing at the edge of its range in arid Australia, as compared with the dominant local livestock, the Merino sheep (Ovis aries)
Western grey kangaroos (Macropus fuliginosus melanops) are large, foregut fermenting herbivores common to Australia's southern woodlands and shrublands, but they extend well into semiarid habitats at the north-eastern edge of their range. At this range boundary, western grey kangaroos occupy open chenopod (saltbush) shrubland, along with Australia's other large native kangaroos, as well as with extensive pastoral stock, primarily the wool-breed merino sheep. In this habitat, within a large naturally vegetated enclosure (16 ha), western grey kangaroos grazing sympatrically with merino sheep spent much of the day resting under shade trees, and fed mainly during the evening and early morning, mainly on grasses and flat-leaved chenopods. On this diet, western grey kangaroos had water turnovers similar to those of red kangaroos, at 1.1 L d−1. Sheep, however, used 7.7 L of water each day. Thus, although the sheep were twice the average body mass of kangaroos, the sheep used more than seven times as much water. This level of water use by sheep was almost half that previously reported for sheep at the same site feeding mainly on salt-laden chenopods (ca. 12 L d−1), but was consistent with other studies showing lower water usage by sheep feeding on trees and low-salt shrubs; foregut (rumen) contents of our sheep comprised 35% tree browse. Overall, our data do not support suggestions that western grey kangaroos are limited mainly by water at this arid range-boundary. Notably, the western grey kangaroos’ feeding behaviours were consistent with those of other arid-zone kangaroos, highlighting distinctive differences in the ecological physiology of the foregut fermenting kangaroos and the ruminant sheep.
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