Water use and the thermoregulatory behaviour of kangaroos in arid regions: insights into the colonisation of arid rangelands in Australia by the Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus)

Abstract

The Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) occurs mostly in the wetter regions of eastern Australia. However, in the past 30–40 years it has moved into more arid regions (rainfall<250 mm), thus increasing its overlap zone with the xeric adapted Red Kangaroo (Macropus rufus). An increased access to water (supplied for domestic stock) may explain this range extension, but changes in the availability of preferred feed could also be involved. The water use, drinking patterns and thermoregulatory behaviour of these two species of kangaroo have been examined in a semi-free range study, during summer at an arid rangeland site. Foraging was largely nocturnal in both species and during the day they behaved to reduce heat loads. This was especially so for M. giganteus, which showed greater shade seeking. However, it still used more water (72±2.6 mL kg−1 day−1, mean ± SE) than M. rufus (56±7.6 mL kg−1 day−1) and drank twice as frequently. Although M. giganteus produced a less concentrated urine (1422±36 mosmol kg−1) than M. rufus (1843±28 mosmol kg−1), kidney physiology did not explain all of the differences in water metabolism between the species. Water from the feed and faecal water retention also appear to be involved. Broadly, a better access to reliable water and the utilisation of mesic microhabitats has enabled M. giganteus to make inroads into the changing rangelands of eastern Australia. However, changes in the vegetation, due to stock grazing, have also favoured M. giganteus, which is a grass eating specialist.

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