Diapause, pregnancy, and parturition in Australian marsupials

J Exp Zool. 1993 Aug 1;266(5):450-62. doi: 10.1002/jez.1402660510.


Marsupial pregnancy is characterised by a long lactation and a relatively short gestation. Marsupials have, in effect, exchanged the umbilical cord for the teat. However, gestation can be extended for up to 11 months by the imposition of a period of developmental arrest known as embryonic diapause. Diapause may be under either lactational or seasonal control, and in the kangaroos and wallabies these effects are mediated by prolactin and melatonin, respectively. At the other end of gestation, namely parturition, it appears that marsupials are fairly typical mammals and require all the same physiological and behavioural cues essential for the delivery of a viable young. Parturition depends on a synchronised cascade of hormonal events triggered by the fetus itself. Prostaglandin and prolactin concentrations pulse around the time of birth and progesterone falls. Successful parturition also depends on the adoption of the appropriate behaviour and birth posture by the mother. Despite the fact that the entire period of gestation is accomplished in such a short time, the neonate has perfectly adapted its growth and development to influence its mother's physiology to induce the change from nurturing the young in its uterus via a placenta, to a precise synchronisation of the birth process resulting in completion of its growth within the pouch sustained by a milk tailor-made for each developmental stage.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Australia
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Female
  • Labor, Obstetric / physiology*
  • Marsupialia / physiology*
  • Placenta / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Animal / physiology*