Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Sydney
Nutritional ecology of carnivorous marsupials to improve captive breeding programs
I investigate nutrition in endangered marsupials to develop species appropriate diets. Many endangered species are bred in captivity to be used in release programs to repopulate wild populations or reintroduce to areas they once occupied. Often little is known about the biology and ecology of endangered species and my research aims to determine the nutritional requirements of some of these species to optimise their health while in captivity. This in turn will ensure individuals being released are in optimum health to reproduce and survive post-release.
Abstract: Nutritional geometry has shown the benefits of viewing nutrition in a multidimensional context, in which foraging is viewed as a process of balancing the intake and use of multiple nutrients. New insights into nutrient regulation have been generated in studies performed in a laboratory context, where accurate measures of amounts (e.g. eaten, converted to body mass, excreted) can be made and analysed using amounts-based nutritional geometry. In most field situations, however, proportional compositions (e.g. of foods, diets, faeces) are the only measures readily available, and in some cases are more relevant to the problem at hand. For this reason, a complementary geometric method was recently introduced for analysing multi-dimensional data on proportional compositions in nutritional studies, called the right-angled mixture triangle (RMT). We use literature data from field studies of primates to demonstrate how the RMT can provide insight into a variety of important concepts in nutritional ecology. We first compare the compositions of foods, using as an example primate milks collected in both the wild and the laboratory. We next compare the diets of different species of primates from the same habitat and of the same species (mountain gorillas) from two distinct forests. Subsequently, we model the relationships between the composition of gorilla diets in these two habitats and the foods that comprise these diets, showing how such analyses can provide evidence for active nutrient-specific regulation in a field context. We provide a framework to relate concepts developed in laboratory studies with field-based studies of nutrition.
Pub.: 01 Dec '14, Pinned: 28 Oct '17
Abstract: Balancing of macronutrient intake has only recently been demonstrated in predators. In particular, the ability to regulate carbohydrate intake is little studied in obligate carnivores, as carbohydrate is present at very low concentrations in prey animal tissue. In the present study, we determined whether American mink (Neovison vison) would compensate for dietary nutritional imbalances by foraging for complementary macronutrients (protein, lipid and carbohydrate) when subsequently given a dietary choice. We used three food pairings, within which two macronutrients differed relative to each other (high v. low concentration), while the third was kept at a constant level. The mink were first restricted to a single nutritionally imbalanced food for 7 d and then given a free choice to feed from the same food or a nutritionally complementary food for three consecutive days. When restricted to nutritionally imbalanced foods, the mink were willing to overingest protein only to a certain level ('ceiling'). When subsequently given a choice, the mink compensated for the period of nutritional imbalance by selecting the nutritionally complementary food in the food choice pairing. Notably, this rebalancing occurred for all the three macronutrients, including carbohydrate, which is particularly interesting as carbohydrate is not a major macronutrient for obligate carnivores in nature. However, there was also a ceiling to carbohydrate intake, as has been demonstrated previously in domestic cats. The results of the present study show that mink regulate their intake of all the three macronutrients within limits imposed by ceilings on protein and carbohydrate intake and that they will compensate for a period of nutritional imbalance by subsequently selecting nutritionally complementary foods.
Pub.: 21 Aug '14, Pinned: 28 Oct '17
Abstract: Both lifespan and healthspan are influenced by nutrition, with nutritional interventions proving to be robust across a wide range of species. However, the relationship between nutrition, health and aging is still not fully understood. Caloric restriction is the most studied dietary intervention known to extend life in many organisms, but recently the balance of macronutrients has been shown to play a critical role. In this review, we discuss the current understanding regarding the impact of calories and macronutrient balance in mammalian health and longevity, and highlight the key nutrient-sensing pathways that mediate the effects of nutrition on health and ageing.
Pub.: 30 May '15, Pinned: 28 Oct '17
Abstract: Over the last century, humans have modified landscapes, generated pollution and provided opportunities for exotic species to invade areas where they did not evolve. In addition, humans now interact with animals in a growing number of ways (e.g. ecotourism). As a result, the quality (i.e. nutrient composition) and quantity (i.e. food abundance) of dietary items consumed by wildlife have, in many cases, changed. We present representative examples of the extent to which vertebrate foraging behaviour, food availability (quantity and quality) and digestive physiology have been modified due to human-induced environmental changes and human activities. We find that these effects can be quite extensive, especially as a result of pollution and human-provisioned food sources (despite good intentions). We also discuss the role of nutrition in conservation practices, from the perspective of both in situ and ex situ conservation. Though we find that the changes in the nutritional ecology and physiology of wildlife due to human alterations are typically negative and largely involve impacts on foraging behaviour and food availability, the extent to which these will affect the fitness of organisms and result in evolutionary changes is not clearly understood, and requires further investigation.
Pub.: 26 Jul '17, Pinned: 28 Oct '17
Abstract: The eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus) is a carnivorous Australian marsupial that has undergone significant geographical range contraction since European settlement, and is extinct on the mainland. Nutrition is not well researched in captive eastern quolls, and captive diets often consist of commercial pet foods as opposed to raw meat or insect diets. Improving nutrition will enhance reproductive output and ensure suitable numbers of quolls are bred to be used in translocation programs. The present study analyzed the composition of kangaroo mince and chicken necks, and the digestibility of these items, in a captive environment. The quolls had high apparent total tract digestibility on the chicken neck and kangaroo mince treatments (DM 83-88%, GE 95-97%, protein 94-97%, and lipids 94-95%, respectively). The apparent total tract digestibility of DM, GE, and proteins was significantly higher (t14= 2.465, P < 0.05; t14= 2.489, P < 0.05; t14= 5.470, P < 0.01, respectively) on the kangaroo mince treatment compared with the chicken neck treatment. This study provides the first data on Cu (-18-37%), S (86-95%), and Zn (26-28%) apparent total tract digestibility in a Dasyurid. Data gathered during this study can be used to improve management practices for captive quolls, including diet formulation and mineral supplementation.
Pub.: 23 Apr '13, Pinned: 28 Oct '17
Abstract: The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is the largest extant carnivorous marsupial. The Tasmanian devil is currently listed as endangered and is under threat from a contagious cancer. The aims of the study were to determine hematology and blood chemistry reference intervals for captive Tasmanian devils and determine the influence of three biological factors on blood variables. Hematology and blood chemistry data were analyzed retrospectively from medical reports obtained from Taronga Zoo. Samples were analyzed using current technology at the time of collection. Thirty seven variables were analyzed for 104 blood samples from 1992 until 2015. Data were statistically analyzed for differences between age, gender and season. Generally Tasmanian devils have higher serum concentrations of albumin (ALB) and creatinine and lower alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and amylase (AMY) compared with other dasyurids. Younger animals tended to have significantly higher serum concentrations of ALP, AST and phosphorus, while total protein and globulin activity in younger animals was less than in older animals. Hemoglobin, total protein and AST concentrations were influenced by season, with higher concentrations observed in either spring or summer. Lymphocyte, and erythrocyte counts, and serum concentrations of lipase and AMY were significantly higher in females compared with males. The reference ranges determined here can be used in the health assessment of captive Tasmanian devils and for those used in translocation programs in the future.
Pub.: 13 Apr '16, Pinned: 28 Oct '17
Abstract: Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) are the largest carnivorous marsupial in Australia. Currently many animals are being held in captivity as a management procedure to combat Devil Facial Tumor Disease. Only one published study thus far has investigated nutrition in Tasmanian devils, determining their maintenance energy requirements and digestibility on a rodent diet. More information is needed on Tasmanian devil nutritional and gastrointestinal function to aid in their management. Our study aimed to investigate the current nutritional status of Tasmanian devils in a captive population and functional morphology and histology of their gastrointestinal tract. Animals were maintained on a diet of kangaroo, rabbit, quail and chicken wings and digestibility of these items by the devils was high (>85% for dry matter, protein and lipid). Kangaroo and rabbit were high protein diet items while the quail and chicken wings provided high lipid to the diet, and carbohydrates were minimal (≤3% energy). Maintenance energy requirements were determined to be 620kJkg(-0.75)d(-1) with no significant difference between males and females. Opportunistic samples for gastrointestinal morphology were obtained from captive specimens. Tasmanian devils have a simple digestive tract similar to other dasyurid species. Both the morphology and histology of the gastrointestinal tract show specialization for a high protein carnivorous diet.
Pub.: 14 Dec '16, Pinned: 28 Oct '17
Abstract: Many animals consume foods that vary in all 3 macronutrients: carbohydrates, lipid, and protein. Yet most studies of diet regulation only consider pairs of nutrients (protein and carbohydrate or protein and lipid). Diet regulation also extends beyond nutrient and energy intake to include sources of energy expenditure, such as changes in activity level. We used a right-angled mixture triangle design to quantify the 3-dimensional intake target of fat-tailed dunnarts, Sminthopsis crassicaudata, and to test the consequences of free choice for energy intake, weight gain, and activity level relative to a standard maintenance diet. Dunnarts consistently preferred a relatively high-lipid, low-protein, and low-carbohydrate diet in 3 separate feeding experiments. Dunnarts also consumed a higher total energy intake during choice relative to no-choice periods. However, the weight of dunnarts was not consistently higher at the end of choice relative to no-choice periods, which is likely because dunnarts increased their activity level during periods of choice and decreased their activity when on no-choice diets. This shows that increases in the intake of lipid, which is an important component in the diet of dunnarts, does not necessarily lead to increases in weight gain because these animals can adjust energy expenditure to balance their energy budget. These results have important implications for the design of diets for animals in captivity and demonstrate that consideration of both energy intake and expenditure are needed for a more comprehensive and integrative understanding of diet regulation by animals.
Pub.: 06 Dec '16, Pinned: 28 Oct '17
Abstract: Reproduction and especially lactation are nutritionally costly for mammals. Maternal access to adequate and optimal nutrients is essential for fecundity, survival of offspring, and offspring growth rates. In eutherian species energy requirements during lactation can be heavily dependent on litter size and the body mass of the female. In marsupials litter size does not appear to affect nutritional requirements during lactation; however, studies of marsupial nutritional requirements during lactation are rare. Marsupials are distinct from eutherians as they give birth to young at a much more underdeveloped state and the majority of their investment into the growth of their offspring occurs postnatally. Nutritional requirements of adult female red-tailed phascogales (Phascogale calura) were measured to determine the differences between those lactating and not lactating. On average females that were lactating had maintenance energy requirements of 1728 ± 195 kJ kg(-0.75) d(-1), double that of non-lactating animals. There was no significant correlation between energy requirements and litter size among lactating female phascogales. Apparent absorption of macronutrients did not differ between lactating and non-lactating individuals. The study has shown that food needs to be increased by at least double during late lactation. Litter size appears to have no influence on maternal nutrient requirements when food is available ad libitum and offspring in smaller litters grow faster than those in larger litters.
Pub.: 12 Aug '15, Pinned: 28 Oct '17