ASSESSING HOW POSSUMS RECORD THEIR LOCAL DIET AND ENVIRONMENT VIA STABLE ISOTOPES AND DENTAL MICROWEAR TEXTURES WITH IMPLICATIONS FOR PALEOECOLOGICAL ANALYSES
Small arboreal marsupials were abundant during the Miocene when Australian forests were more widely distributed and declined with the opening up of the landscape. Most paleoecological analyses in Australia have focused on ground dwelling marsupials, in part because an extant baseline is not well developed. Here, we analyzed stable carbon and oxygen isotope data from incisor enamel and DMTA of the cheek teeth of two small, arboreal, primarily folivorous marsupials, Trichosurus vulpecula and Trichosurus caninus. We find that T. vulpecula stable oxygen isotope values are best predicted by a combination of relative humidity, maximum mean annual temperature, and δ18Oprecipitation (R2 = 0.24, p < 0.001), while stable carbon values have a best fit model that includes relative humidity, maximum mean annual temperature, and mean annual precipitation (R2 = 0.18, p < 0.001). In contrast, mean annual precipitation is the best predictor of stable oxygen isotopes in T. caninus (R2 = 0.42, p = 0.006), while no variables tested predicted stable carbon values in this highly restricted species. Analysis of the microwear of T. vulpecula indicate the consumption of tough food items with some individuals eating harder food items, consistent with observational data. Understanding how possums track their environment today opens up possibilities for better climate and environment reconstructions in Australia’s fossil record.