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A quantitative study of the morphological development and bacterial colonisation of the gut of the tammar wallaby Macropus eugenii eugenii and brushtail possum Trichosurus vulpecula during in-pouch development
journal contributionposted on 2006-11-01, 00:00 authored by R G Lentle, D Dey, C Hulls, D J Mellor, P J Moughan, K J Stafford, Kevin Nicholas
We compared the rates of change of various morphological parameters of the stomach, small intestine, caecum and colon of tammar wallabies and brushtail possums with body mass during in-pouch development. These were correlated with changes in the numbers of bacterial species in the various gut segments. In the pouch-young of both species, the wet tissue masses of all gut segments increased with body mass in a positively allometric manner (i.e. with a body mass exponent > 1), suggesting that the mass of each component was disproportionately low at birth, but increased disproportionately rapidly postnatally. However, the lengths of the wallaby stomach and small intestine scaled isometrically with respect to body mass (i.e. with a body mass exponent around 0.33), which may indicate that the shape of these components changes to the adult form during early neonatal development. Conversely, the length of the caecum and colon of both wallabies and possums scaled in a positively allometric manner with respect to body mass, showing area to volume compensation. This may indicate a more general pattern of disproportionately rapid postnatal enlargement in areas that are distal to the principal sites of neonatal digestion (i.e. the stomach). The numbers of bacterial species present in the various gastrointestinal segments of both species were low in animals aged 100 days or less but there was a significant increase in microbial diversity in the caecum of brushtail possums aged over 100 days. The possum caecum also showed the greatest rate of increase in wet tissue mass relative to body mass. It is postulated that caecal development may act as a nidus for establishment of communities of commensal microflora in the developing marsupial. © 2006 Springer-Verlag.