Monash University

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The behaviour in captivity of the dasyurid marsupial Phascogale tapoatafa (Meyer)

posted on 2017-02-09, 00:00 authored by Cuttle, Peter
The aim of this study was to investigate the behaviour in captivity of the dasyurid marsupial Phascogale tapoatafa. Each behaviour was initially described and defined in terms of its observed effect, whether on the animal itself, on a conspecific, on a prey species or on an object or structure. Locomotor, exploratory and grooming behaviour of solitary animals is described. Movements involved in prey catching are defined, and their sequential relationships in encounters with various prey are examined. Movements do not occur randomly, but are ordered on the basis of facilitation of one movement by another, and of feedback to the animal from the situation and the behaviour of the prey. Prey are not divisible into classes on the basis of the predator's responses to them. Data available for other dasyurids is compared. The adaptive value of prey-catching behaviour is discussed in terms of the ability of the prey to resist predation. The reproductive strategy is examined with both field and laboratory studies. P. tapoatafa exhibits a life-history strategy similar to that of Antechinus stuartii, in which all males die after first breeding. The adaptive value of this strategy is discussed in terms of reproductive effort and the predictability of the environment. Nest-building and copulatory behaviour are briefly described. The development of behaviour is described in terms of the acquisition by the young of sensory modalities and locomotor skills, and of the changing relationships amongst the litter-mates and between the mother and her offspring. The daily pattern of activity is described. On short nights, the animal may be active for most of the night. During winter, the night is divided into periods of activity and periods of inactivity. The survival value of this strategy is discussed in terms of feeding and energetics. Communication is described in terms of the sensory modalities used, the signals observed and the observed effect on other animals. P. tapoatafa shows a small range of auditory signals which may form a graded communication system. Olfactory marking by males is pronounced during the breeding season. Olfactory cues may signal physiological state and assist in individual recognition. Agonistic behaviour is briefly described in relation to dispersal of the animals for breeding.


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J. E. Nelson

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Biological Sciences


Master of Science

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Faculty of Science

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