Metatherian mammals, also known as marsupials, comprise around 272 species. They are an ancient group, very diverse in body form, and they occupy an enormous range of ecological niches. Today, most marsupials are found in Central and South America (around 70 species) and Australasia (around 200 species). Radiations took place on both of these continents during the Cenozoic, at a time when there were few placental competitors. Present marsupial faunas are very diverse, with some startling parallels with placental mammals (e.g., marsupials with similar morphologies and life histories as moles, anteaters, shrews, primates, carnivores, and many others). Some marsupial life histories and morphologies are seemingly without placental mammal parallels, for example, kangaroos. Past marsupial faunas were even more incredible. In Australia, for example, were rhinoceros-sized marsupial herbivores, kangaroos nearly 10 feet tall, and carnivorous lion-like forms with shearing teeth and retractile claws. In South America, where parallel radiations of large placental herbivores may have denied these herbivorous niches to marsupials, marsupials filled many carnivore niches (including a sabretooth marsupial "cat") and many rodent-like forms. It seems clear on both continents that invasion by placental mammals is correlated with a decline in number and diversity of marsupials. However, it is unclear whether placental mammals caused the disappearance of marsupials through competition or the apparent pattern of replacement is the result of random historical events.
- Vaughan, T., J. Ryan, N. Czaplewski. 2000. Mammalogy, 4th Edition. Toronto: Brooks Cole.
- Nowak, R. 1991. Order Marsupialia. Pp. 10-113 in Walker's Mammals of the World, Vol. 1, 5th Edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Wilson, D., D. Reeder. 1993. Mammal Species of the World, A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. 2nd edition. Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
- Moeller, H. 1990. Marsupials: Introduction. Pp. 212-219 in B Grzimek, ed. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals, Vol. 1, 1st Edition. New York: Mcgraw-Hill.
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