Barrow Island, which lies about 90 km north of Onslow off the arid Western Australian Pilbara coast, experienced its driest year on record in 1990 with a total of only 122.4 mm of rain. Golden bandicoots captured in November 1990 evidenced poor condition and mean body mass was a low 242.6 +/- 10.9 g with-a total body water content (TBW) of 76.3 +/- 1.4%. Despite this substantial loss of body water and solids, the animals maintained water and electrolyte balance during the period of turnover [water influx 79.5 +/- 6.9 v. efflux 83.3 +/- 5-7 mL (kg0.82 day)-1 and sodium influx 4.9 +/- 0.7 v. efflux 5.3 +/- 0.7 mmol (kg day)-1]. By April 1991, although only a further 37.4 mm of rain had been recorded on Barrow Island, the condition of the bandicoots had improved markedly, as a result of exploitation of insect resources, and their mean body mass had increased to 306.5 +/- 22.6 g and TBW decreased to 62.5 +/- 1.4% (both P <0.001), the latter reflecting enhanced fat stores. This general improvement in condition of the bandicoots was in marked contrast to that of other herbivorous marsupials on the island. Rates of water and sodium turnover of the golden bandicoots were, however, not significantly different from those measured in the previous November, Field Metabolic Rates (FMRs), measured with doubly labelled water ((HHO))-H-3-O-18, were extremely low, averaging only 0.45 +/- 0.26 mL CO2 (g h)-1, which is very close to laboratory estimates of 0.35 +/- 0.09 mL O2(g h)-1 for the basal metabolic rate of this species. A major cyclone struck Barrow Island on 3 March 1992, with 162 mm of rain falling in 24 h, and turnover measurements in May of that year revealed a substantial increase in rates of water flux. Mean body mass further increased to 332.6 +/- 8.5 g and TBW averaged 61.8 +/- 1.1%. Water turnover rates were significantly elevated when compared with April of the previous year with an influx of 112.5 +/- 7.3 and an efflux of 119.0 +/- 7.6 mL (kg0.82 day)-1 respectively (both P = 0.001). Rates of sodium turnover, however, were only slightly lower at 3.6 +/- 0.5 and 4.1 +/- 0.5 mmol (kg day)-1 for influx and efflux respectively (P = 0.056 for influx only), suggesting a slight decrease in the average sodium content of the diet. The volume of water required to maintain hygric balance was estimated by regression analysis at 26.7 mL day-1 [=88.3 mL (kg0.82 day)-1] in November 1990, and 33-9 mL day-1 [=85.2 mL (kg0.82 day)-1] in May 1992, following rain. The FMR of eight bandicoots was very significantly elevated to 1.39 +/- 0.23 mL CO2 (g h)-1 after rain, which is substantially higher than even the FMR of 0.91 +/- 0.07 mL CO2(g h)-1, or 644 kJ day-1, reported for the closely related southern brown bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus) studied in the region of Perth by Nagy et al. (1991). Turnover rates of water and sodium for two rodent species, the Barrow Island mouse (Pseudomys nanus) and the rock rat (Zyzomys argurus), were very similar to those recorded for golden bandicoots in the dry period, but FMRs were a little higher at 0.80 +/- 0.26 and 0.59 +/- 0-36 mL CO2(g h)-l respectively. The FMR of Barrow Island mice increased very significantly to a mean of 2.73 +/- 0.50 mL CO2(g h)-l after rain, but rock rats were not caught at this time. The data document the impressive ability of these mammals to avail themselves of extremely limited resources and maintain physiological homoiostasis under conditions of extreme aridity.