Body condition of the red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) in arid Australia: The effect of environmental condition, sex and reproduction

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Abstract

The body condition of live-caught male and female red kangaroos (Macropus rufus Desmarest 1842) was assessed in environmental conditions described by a period of high (two years) followed by low (one year) rainfall. Changes in pasture biomass and quality closely followed rainfall fluctuations in these years. Fluctuations in standardized body mass, in turn, lagged behind changes in pasture biomass with a delay of three months. Male and female body condition was best predicted by green grass biomass. Kangaroos caught during the high rainfall period reached an above average plane of condition. In the low rainfall period that followed, the condition of kangaroos declined, and was greater for small males (14–41 kg), large males (45–89 kg), and females (18–36 kg) with small or no pouch young than for female subadults (< 22 kg) and females with large pouch young (20–34 kg). Female subadults were also significantly older and the ratio of females:females with young-at-foot was higher in the low rainfall period. This suggests a mechanism for age/sex class differences in survivorship. The lagged synchrony of body condition with pasture biomass can be explained by body-size related digestive constraints, reflecting sex differences in adaptation to a stochastic environment.

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