Hairy nosed wombat
Original Published Date: 
Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Full article issued by The University of Queensland.

An international study, co-led by Discovery Projects grant recipient, Dr Vera Weisbecker, based at The University of Queensland, has revealed that wombat jaws appear to change in relation to their diets. The flexible jaws may help wombats better survive in a changing world by adapting to climate change’s effect on vegetation and new diets in conservation sanctuaries.

The survival of wombats depends on their ability to chew large amounts of tough plants such as grasses, roots and even bark. Scientists had long suspected that native Australian marsupial mammals were limited in being able to adapt their skull in this way. 

“But in good news, our research has contradicted this idea.” says Dr Weisbecker.

The team used a technique known as geometric morphometrics—the study of how shapes vary—to characterise skull shape variation within three different species of wombat, with each species having a slightly different diet. Dr Weisbecker said the team was particularly excited that the critically endangered northern hairy-nosed wombat, with around 250 individuals left, seemed to be able to adapt to new diets, which could help in translocating them to new sanctuary locations where threats are less, but diets may be quite different.

Funding was provided by The Wombat Foundation as well as the Australian Research Council.

Photo credit: 

A hairy-nosed wombat. Credit: Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0).