Research: Hoppers are super-athletes

Thursday, 11 July, 2013
Hopping does not help Australian marsupials save energy; instead the physical feat requires the aerobic capacity of a super-athlete, UNSW research presented at a scientific meeting shows.
The new view of marsupial metabolism may help explain how large animals such as kangaroos developed hopping, says Emeritus Professor Terry Dawson of UNSW, who has been studying kangaroos for many years, particularly at UNSW's Fowler's Gap Research Station.
"Large hoppers are so specialised we can't really see how they've got to where they are," says Dawson, who presented his research at the 59th annual scientific meeting of the Australian Mammal Society, which was hosted this week by the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.
The discovery that marsupials can produce high levels of energy suggests hopping may have originated in small, active, aboreal forms such as possums, Dawson and Dr Koa Webster from Macquarie University told the meeting.
Hopping is the primary mode of locomotion for large marsupials such as kangaroos, wallabies, and rat-kangaroos. They are the only large animals known to hop.
It had been assumed that marsupials had low metabolisms and hopping conserved energy while travelling at high speeds that rival many placental mammmals such as horses.
"It was thought they had low energy production overall and hopping was a way of getting around the limitations of not being athletic enough," says Dawson.
But Dawson and Webster's research suggests the opposite is true.
Read a full report on the research at ABC Science online.
UNSW Science media contact: Deborah Smith, 9385 7307, 0478 492 060,