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Marsupials are often considered inferior to placental mammals in a number of physiological characters. Because locomotor performance is presumed to be an important component of fitness, we compared marsupials and placentals with regard to both maximal running speeds and maximal aerobic speeds (=speed at which the maximal rate of oxygen consumption, VOlmax, is attained). Maximal aerobic speed is related to an animal's maximal sustainable speed, and hence is a useful comparative index of stamina.

Maximal running speeds of 11 species of Australian marsupials, eight species of Australian murid rodents, two species of American didelphid marsupials, and two species of American rodents were measured in the laboratory and compared with data compiled from the literature. Our values are greater than, or equivalent to, those reported previously. Marsupials and placentals do not differ in maximal running speeds (nor do Australian rodents differ from non-Australian rodents). Within these groups, however, species and families may differ considerably. Some of the interspecific variation in maximal running speeds is related to differences in habitat: species inhabiting open habitats (e.g. deserts) tend to be faster than are species from habitats with more cover, or arboreal species.

Maximal aerobic speeds (compiled from the literature) were higher in large species than in small species. However, marsupials and placentals show no general difference with regard to maximal aerobic speeds.

Maximal running speeds and maximal aerobic speeds for 18 species of mammals were not correlated, after correcting for correlations with body size. Thus, the fastest sprinters do not necessarily have high maximal aerobic speeds.