For many wildlife species only limited data are available on haematology and blood biochemistry for free-ranging populations because these are often difficult to obtain. We collected blood samples from wild adult mountain brushtail possums (Trichosurus cunninghami) in the Strathbogie Ranges, Victoria (Australia), over two years, to provide reference values for haematological and some serum biochemical parameters (serum protein, sodium, chloride, potassium, urea, creatinine, creatine kinase and cortisol) for free-ranging animals. We also investigated patterns associated with sex, season, age, habitat type and disease status, including a form of skin disease (rumpwear – one of the major diseases of brushtail possums) and parasite loads. Values for several blood parameters correlated with sex, and most also changed significantly with season. Eosinophil counts increased significantly with the number of strongyle eggs in faeces, and packed cell volume decreased significantly with increasing numbers of ticks. Surprisingly, there was a significant negative relationship between mean population serum cortisol concentrations and the prevalence of rumpwear. Serum sodium and chloride concentrations were significantly lower in possums with moderate to severe rumpwear; however, the biological significance of this is unclear. While there is a growing body of data on the blood parameters of marsupials, these are mainly derived from captive animals, or single sample sets from wild populations, thus are unlikely to accurately reflect the changing status of wild animals/populations across seasons and under varying environmental conditions and parasite loads. More comprehensive, longer-term data from free-ranging marsupial populations, such as those presented here, provide extremely important reference data to aid in determining the health status of wild populations and interpreting data collected from individuals.
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Vol. 61 • No. 6