Lactation in the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii). I. Milk consumption and the algebraic description of the lactation curve



The milk intake of suckling tammar wallabies (Macropus eugenii) was estimated between 213 and 339 days of age using a double-isotope procedure in which tritiated water (TOH) was injected into the dams and deuterium oxide (D2O) injected into the offspring. Recycling of isotopes between mothers and offspring was shown not to be a significant source of error. Estimates of body water (isotope dilution space) in the mothers or offspring, as a proportion of their body weight, were similar to values obtained with other macropodids and with placental mammals (0.73–0.75). Total water inflow in the offspring increased throughout the period, but the proportion of this contributed by milk fell in sigmoid fashion from 95.6% at 213 d to 3.7% at 340 d. Milk intakes reached a peak of about 86 ml/d, which was low compared with placental species. Before the peak, intakes were more closely related to body weight than age. Peak milk intake corresponded with the period of emergence from the pouch. Milk intakes were also in excellent agreement with published data obtained earlier in lactation, in animals drawn from the same population. These data were therefore combined to provide estimates of intake for the whole of lactation in the tammar wallaby, and algebraic models fitted to describe the pattern of milk intake in relation to body weight or age. With body weight, the pattern of milk intake was well described by a rising linear phase to a peak intake of about 86 ml/d near 1110 g body weight, followed by a gradual exponential decline. When related to age, the pattern was well described by a rising logistic phase (peak at 251 d) followed by a sharp exponential decline. It is shown that this latter pattern is markedly similar to the shape of the functions describing the energy requirements for the sum of pregnancy and lactation in a placental species, the sheep.