KOALA NEWS & SCIENCE

An informative monthly newsletter about successes & important announcements in koala conservation, and the latest scientific publications about koalas.

February 2023

Subscribe here: https://mailchi.mp/808fc4af1ee0/koala-news-science

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NSW Environment Leaders Forum 1 March
NPA NSW are hosting a forum with Environment Minister James Griffin, Shadow Environment Minister Penny Sharpe and Greens Environment Spokesperson Sue Higginson.
https://m.facebook.com/events/577410967172988/

Protest for Koalas Manly NSW 12 March
Bob Brown Foundation are hosting a protest at Manly Beach Promenade.
https://www.facebook.com/events/907674927147933

Proposal for koala strike 25 February
“This is a proposal for a koala strike. For as long as the Albanese government continues to approve fossil fuel projects, there should be a ban on ministers entering zoos and animal parks for photo opportunities. If the government insists on contributing to catastrophic climate change, it should not benefit from the positive feelings people have towards the animals and environments it is destroying.”
https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/opinion/editorial/2023/02/25/the-koala-strike

Upcoming NSW election candidates forums:
Kiama 6 March: https://fb.me/e/G76iURyg?mibextid=N4tvPT
South Coast 9 March: https://facebook.com/events/s/south-coast-candidate-forum/470056765213694/

9 Koalas found by drones at fire-devastated Two Thumbs Wildlife Trust, NSW 15 February
University of Sunshine Coast have drone-surveyed Two Thumbs Koala Sanctuary and found 9 koalas. This area was completely burnt in the Black Summer fires.
https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid025FhQaKuYoz77XYbmCH8MNqMVyCqPLzt8Un2wwK6Ax29rAV8P2Rk9h83mdzBFfu4Ll&id=372228552860643&mibextid=Nif5oz

Koala joeys Rafa & Kookie released to wild 13 February
The two koala joeys, both orphaned by vehicle strike, were cared for by Friends of the Koala with support from IFAW, and successfully released into the wild.
https://www.ifaw.org/international/press-releases/orphaned-koalas-release

Analysis of much-publicised NSW ‘koala habitat’ additions 28 February
The NSW Government are talking up 3000+ha of ‘high quality koala habitat’ national park additions but the Nature Conservation Council analysis has shown that only a very small percentage of this is actually significant koala habitat.
https://www.nature.org.au/national_park_additions_welcome_but_where_are_the_koalas_meant_to_live?
https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/news/thousands-more-hectares-of-koala-habitat-protected-forever

Radio-tracking progress of Athey, Atherton Tablelands koala QLD 23 February
Athey, one of the very few tropical koalas living wild north of Townsville, has been radio tracked since he was released from care in Feb 2022. In 10 days he’d moved 12km.
https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2023/02/ever-seen-a-koala-in-the-tropics-probably-not/

Successful volunteer day at Ferny Forest QLD 17 February
After saving Ferny Forest from logging, the community is now helping to maintain the forest. Their first weeding day was a great success.
https://m.facebook.com/groups/1306167879854750/permalink/1612868815851320/?mibextid=Nif5oz

Great prizes to win in NPA NSW raffle
National Parks Association of NSW are running a raffle to support nature conservation. Raffle is available to NSW residents only and will be drawn 31 March. First prize is $500 worth of accommodation near Bouddi NP.
https://rafflelink.com.au/npaspr2022?

Koala Information Session on Bellarine Peninsula VIC 20 February
Concerned residents came together at a koala information session hosted by Ocean Grove Coastcare. Presenters Janine Duffy, Koala Clancy Foundation and Sophie Small, Bellarine Landcare discussed the status, opportunities and threats to koalas on the Bellarine.
https://timesnewsgroup.com.au/bellarinetimes/news/residents-invited-to-koala-snapshot-session/

Funding for koala habitats on Sunshine Coast QLD 11 February
3 groups have secured funding for koala habitats: Curramore by AWC; Hinterland Koala Habitat by Hinterland Bush Links and Sunshine Coast Hinterland Koala Habitat Restoration by Ecollaboration.
https://noosatoday.com.au/news/11-02-2023/sunny-boost-for-sunshine-coast-koalas/

Funding boost for Southern Highlands Koalas NSW 2 February
Wingecarribee Shire Council has secured $1million over 5 years to be spent on: $600,000 for the Southern Highlands Koala Conservation Project, $100,000 for private land revegetation, $165,000 for koala road signs, and $150,000 for koala habitat mapping.
https://www.miragenews.com/wingecarribee-council-secures-funding-to-939714/#:~

NSW funding for koala research 2 February
$1.3million has been allocated to 8 projects in 2023:

  • the University of Sydney to vaccinate koala populations that are at risk of getting chlamydia from nearby positive populations, and to understand the impact of heat stress on koala deaths through climate change
  • the University of Queensland to investigate if environmental stressors exacerbate disease in koalas and increase infectious viral activity, and to understand drivers and identify solutions to koala habitat loss and degradation
  • University of Sunshine Coast to evaluate the newly developed koala chlamydia vaccine at the population level
  • Science for Wildlife to evaluate how koalas use their habitat to inform management strategies under climate change
  • the Australian National University to understand the effect of fire on koala diets
  • Biolink to create a quantitative model of tree use by free-ranging koalas.

https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/news/funding-boost-for-koala-research

https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/animals-and-plants/threatened-species/programs-legislation-and-framework/nsw-koala-strategy/nsw-koala-research-plan

Koala sighting in Myall Lakes NSW 22 February
A resident reported a koala to the Myall Koala & Environment Group on the day they were running a public stall giving away koala food trees.
https://www.newsofthearea.com.au/koala-sighting-a-pleasant-surprise-for-seniors-expo-volunteers

Shoalhaven koalas gone, Campbelltown only hope left for Sydney Basin NSW 8 February
A new study by Sydney Basin Koala Network has found no koalas in the Shoalhaven since the Black Summer bushfires. Added to extinctions in Pittwater and Central Coast, it leaves Campbelltown/Wollondilly as the only koala population expanding.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-02-08/koala-extinctions-report-bushfires-shoalhaven/101945036

Cumberland Plain koala habitat offset is a double-dip 24 February
Former NSW planning department public servant outs government plan to re-use an offset that has been used as an offset once before. This is a 2000 ha net loss to biodiversity and koalas on the Georges River.
https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/feb/23/just-a-disgrace-experts-condemn-nsw-use-of-public-land-to-offset-huge-housing-expansion

Planting koala forests is helping flying foxes 25 February
Researchers have found that Hendra virus in flying-foxes is exacerbated by drought and habitat loss, and that tree planting for koalas is benefiting flying foxes and reducing Hendra.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-02-25/hendra-virus-bat-habitat-flying-fox-research-horses/102011352

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Latest Koala Science:

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Blyton, M.D., Brice, K.L., Heller-Uszynska, K., Pascoe, J., Jaccoud, D., Leigh, K.A. and Moore, B.D., 2023. A new genetic method for diet determination from faeces that provides species level resolution in the koala. bioRxiv, pp.2023-02. https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.02.12.528172

An animal’s diet is a crucial trait that defines their realised ecological niche, especially for dietary specialists such as the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), a threatened arboreal marsupial folivore. Unfortunately, the current methods used to characterise koala diet are labour intensive, biased and/or unreliable. Further, in this study we show that four barcoding genes (ITS, ETS, CCR and matK) are unable to resolve potential koala food trees to species. Therefore, we developed and tested a novel SNP-based method for the analysis of koala diet from faeces using the DArTseq platform. This method returned a large number of species-specific SNPs for candidate koala food tree species. Due to low within-species variation, few individuals of each tree species are needed to capture the majority of DArTseq SNP diversity. Nonetheless, we suggest sampling multiple trees to reduce the impact of high allele dropout rates in the DArTseq data. After identifying species-specific SNPs from candidate food tree species from two study sites with different assemblages of eucalypts we were able to detect those SNPs in koala faecal DNA using DArTag, a targeted genotyping assay. This enabled us to semi-quantitatively characterise the koalas’ diets. The food tree species identified were in broad agreement with previously known koala food tree species but also revealed additional species that may contribute to koala diet. This approach provides an important new tool for use in koala ecology and conservation and may prove useful in diet determination for other species where high taxonomic resolution is crucial and dietary DNA is scarce.

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Tkaczynski, A. and Rundle‐Thiele, S., 2023. Koala conservation in South East Queensland: A grey literature review analysis. Conservation Science and Practice, p.e12874.
https://doi.org/10.1111/csp2.12874

This grey literature review documents koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) conservation initiatives applied across 12 local government areas in South East Queensland, Australia. To overcome threats to koalas’ survival, the grey literature indicates that local governments in this region focus on wildlife management solutions, wildlife signage, habitat restoration projects and koala awareness campaigns. Despite these measures, land clearing of koala habitat to cater for urban population growth combined with recent bushfires and floods have contributed to the decline of koalas in this region. Recommendations to enhance progress include greater usage of the grey literature in peer review work and further application of social marketing to encourage residents to uptake behaviors that can mitigate threats to koalas, including slowing down when driving in koala zones, participating in citizen science, and leashing dogs when walking in native bush areas. The need for collaborative efforts aimed at conserving the koala from potential extinction is indicated. This paper provides an approach that can be applied to track progress on coordinated efforts to conserve koalas.

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PAHUJA, H. and Narayan, E., An 8-year long retrospective analysis identifies the major causes of morbidity and mortality in rescued koala joeys. Wildlife Research.
https://www.publish.csiro.au/WR/justaccepted/WR22179

Context. Wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres aid millions of species worldwide. The clinical databases from wildlife rehabilitation centres are increasingly being recognised as a valuable scientific resource that hold the potential to yield information on animal biology and inform conservation efforts. Although orphaned koala joeys constitute a substantial proportion of wildlife rescues in Australia, research related to the causes of morbidity and mortality specifically in rescued young koalas is largely unexplored.
Aims. The primary aim of this study is to analyse the trends of the cause and fate of koala joeys admitted for rehabilitation at the Adelaide Koala Wildlife Centre (AKWC).
Methods. We analysed the hospital records of koala joeys admitted to the AKWC over an 8-year period (2014–2021) to identify the major causes of morbidity and mortality, and analysed the trends in arrivals in terms of season, sex and release rate.
Key results. Our examination indicates that the top five major reasons for admission and mortality in koala joeys are as follows – renal disease, heat stress, chlamydiosis, animal-attack and vehicle collision. A significant increase in the proportion of heat stress, renal disease and chlamydiosis cases can be observed over the study period. Of the major causes of mortality, the most distinctive feature is the exceptionally high mortality rate of koala joeys with renal disease. Over the study period, the overall positive outcome for all joeys increased up to two-fold, and the mortality rate declined slightly.
Conclusion. Despite the significant increase in positive outcome, it is evident that renal disease, chlamydiosis and heat stress are increasing at a rapid rate. Renal disease poses a major threat to rehabilitating koala joeys due to its severely high mortality rate. Implication. This is the first study identifying the key drivers of morbidity and mortality of rescued koala joeys, and the rapid increase of renal disease, chlamydiosis and heat stress warrant the attention of future conservation policy developers. Furthermore, the severely high mortality rate of koala joeys due to renal disease warrants improving treatment protocols and any preventive measures that can help reduce the mortality rate of this disease in koala joeys.

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Tkaczynski, A. and Rundle-Thiele, S., 2023. Koala conservation in South East Queensland: a shared responsibility. Australasian Journal of Environmental Management, pp.1-20.
https://doi.org/10.1080/14486563.2023.2173320

The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is an iconic Australian animal. Its recent reclassification to endangered in locations such as South East Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory indicates urgent and further conservation actions are required. This article proposes that a downstream social marketing approach can be applied to encourage South East Queensland residents to take preventative actions to protect koalas in their region. This article reports the results of an online survey that was completed by 2,592 South East Queensland residents. The data was cluster analysed using TwoStep cluster analysis, resulting in three valid segments. Active koala enthusiasts are knowledgeable and active in koala conservation. City residents were aware of koalas’ decline but are unfamiliar with conservation actions. Young dog owners do not know about the decline of koalas and they do not currently perform conservation actions. Respondents agreed that koala conservation is a shared responsibility between residents, organisations and governments and too many are not aware of actions they can take. Tailored approaches should be applied in the future, including citizen science initiatives such as completing online koala sightings to broaden understanding of koala habitats.

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Hogg, C.J., Silver, L., McLennan, E.A. and Belov, K., 2023. Koala Genome Survey: An Open Data Resource to Improve Conservation Planning. Genes, 14(3), p.546.
https://doi.org/10.3390/genes14030546

Genome sequencing is a powerful tool that can inform the management of threatened species. Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) are a globally recognized species that captured the hearts and minds of the world during the 2019/2020 Australian megafires. In 2022, koalas were listed as ‘Endangered’ in Queensland, New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory. Populations have declined because of various threats such as land clearing, habitat fragmentation, and disease, all of which are exacerbated by climate change. Here, we present the Koala Genome Survey, an open data resource that was developed after the Australian megafires. A systematic review conducted in 2020 demonstrated that our understanding of genomic diversity within koala populations was scant, with only a handful of SNP studies conducted. Interrogating data showed that only 6 of 49 New South Wales areas of regional koala significance had meaningful genome-wide data, with only 7 locations in Queensland with SNP data and 4 locations in Victoria. In 2021, we launched the Koala Genome Survey to generate resequenced genomes across the Australian east coast. We have publicly released 430 koala genomes (average coverage: 32.25X, range: 11.3–66.8X) on the Amazon Web Services Open Data platform to accelerate research that can inform current and future conservation planning.

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Previous Koala News & Science here: http://www.wildkoaladay.com.au/koala-news-science/koala-news-science-january-2023/ 
Written by Janine Duffy President, Koala Clancy Foundation.
with support from Cheryl Egan, Organiser, Wild Koala Day.
Please send your positive, important news & publications to president@koalaclancyfoundation.org.au before 29th of each month for possible inclusion.