Ecology and physiology of the northern quoll, Dasyurus hallucatus (Marsupialia, Dasyuridae), at Mitchell Plateau, Kimberley, Western Australia



Breeding, population dynamics and seasonal changes in physical and physiological parameters were examined in the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus) at Mitchell Plateau, Western Australia, between September 1981 and November 1982. Females gave birth to a single litter of young in July or August. Births were earlier on near-coastal sites than on inland sites. Litter size was greater on inland sites and litter size differed between years. By September all females were either carrying pouch young or were lactating. Lactation ceased by April. Testosterone levels in males peaked in July. There were significantly more male than female pouch young. However, in only one grid was the adult sex ratio different from parity, with an excess of females in September 1981 and 1982. Embryonic mortality was > 53% but loss of pouch young was small. Although males and females moved similar distances between successive recaptures, the extent of movement varied seasonally, being greatest in September. Males were generally larger and heavier than females. Seasonal variations were recorded for most physical and physiological parameters. The most pronounced changes occurred towards the end of the dry season (July to September) for both males and females. Over this period there was a significant decline in weight (males), haematocrit (males), plasma albumin (males) and leucocytes (both males and females) and significant elevations in values of haemoglobin and both free and protein-bound Cortisol in both males and females. Few males survived the post-mating period from July to September. They appeared to decline in condition over this period more markedly than females: they lost more weight, their haematocrit and plasma albumin values declined to a greater extent, and they were more heavily infected with lice (Boopia uncinata). Males with lower testosterone and higher free and protein-bound Cortisol had increased prospects of surviving the breeding season, which suggests that it is the dominant males that are less likely to survive the breeding season. Individuals in the three major populations at Mitchell Plateau differed greatly in their physiological values. The high-density population in a sandstone area had intermediate levels of free Cortisol and higher haematocrit values than both the other populations, and higher levels of haemoglobin than the population on laterite substratum.