Marsupial and monotreme milk-a review of its nutrient and immune properties

Hayley J Stannard, Robert D Miller, Julie M Old

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


All mammals are characterized by the ability of females to produce milk. Marsupial (metatherian) and monotreme (prototherian) young are born in a highly altricial state and rely on their mother's milk for the first part of their life. Here we review the role and importance of milk in marsupial and monotreme development. Milk is the primary source of sustenance for young marsupials and monotremes and its composition varies at different stages of development. We applied nutritional geometry techniques to a limited number of species with values available to analyze changes in macronutrient composition of milk at different stages. Macronutrient energy composition of marsupial milk varies between species and changes concentration during the course of lactation. As well as nourishment, marsupial and monotreme milk supplies growth and immune factors. Neonates are unable to mount a specific immune response shortly after birth and therefore rely on immunoglobulins, immunological cells and other immunologically important molecules transferred through milk. Milk is also essential to the development of the maternal-young bond and is achieved through feedback systems and odor preferences in eutherian mammals. However, we have much to learn about the role of milk in marsupial and monotreme mother-young bonding. Further research is warranted in gaining a better understanding of the role of milk as a source of nutrition, developmental factors and immunity, in a broader range of marsupial species, and monotremes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere9335
Pages (from-to)1-31
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2020


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