Effects of tannins on digestion in the common ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus), a specialized marsupial folivore



Digestibility trials using common ringtail possums (Pseudocheirus peregrinus), small folivorous marsupials, were used to determine effects of tannins on a herbivore which has a specialized hind gut and which normally consumes tannin-rich eucalypt leaves. In one group, untreated leaves were fed to possums, and in a second group polyethylene glycol (PEG) was added to the eucalypt leaves to inactivate tannins. Animals maintained weight, and intakes were not different between the two dietary groups. Digestibility was determined chemically. Digesta were examined histologically. The presence of bacterial rafts in the stomachs of possums fed either diet indicated that PEG did not alter the coprophagic behaviour of possums. Cell wall digestion did not appear to be inhibited by tannins. Tanning of cell contents was predominant, rather than tanning of cell walls. PEG increased faecal excretion of tannins, suggesting that some tannins from normal leaves were digested during gut passage. Dry matter digestibility was higher when animals were fed normal tannin-rich leaves than when they were fed leaves in which tannins were inactivated. The difference could be explained in part by the high digestibility of tannins. The presence of tannin did not reduce nitrogen digestion. We suggest that dissociation of tannin-protein complexes may take place in the specialized caecum. We propose that some other folivorous marsupials may have a similar capacity to overcome tannins. This capacity may allow them to consume a tannin-rich diet.