KOALA NEWS & SCIENCE
An informative monthly newsletter about successes & important announcements in koala conservation, and the latest scientific publications about koalas.
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The week koala wars broke out in Australia 10 Sept
Koalas received widespread coverage after the National Party threatened to leave the NSW state government coalition over the new koala protection measures in the SEPP. NSW National Party leader & Deputy Premier John Barilaro backed down.
25 million trees to be planted in Australia 21 Sept
Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has pledged to fund the planting of 50 million trees worldwide to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2025. Due to the Black Summer bushfire wildlife crisis, half of those trees are being planted in Australia, by Greening Australia.
Koalas amongst species to be considered for uplisting to endangered 25 Sept
28 species, including the koala, are being considered for federal uplisting of their threat status, due to presssure from IFAW, Humane Society International & WWF.
WWF report quantifies koala decline in NSW firegrounds 6 Sept
New report assessed koala declines in six fire-affected areas in northern NSW found average of 71% decline.
New Koala hospital at Werribee VIC 30 September
RSPCA & Zoos Victoria will build a new $1.7million koala & wildlife hospital at Werribee Open Range Zoo. Funding provided from bushfire donations to RSPCA.
Bangalow Koalas have planted 53,586 trees this year NSW 21 Sept
Planting in Bangalow/Byron hinterland has not stopped. In 2.5 years Bangalow Koalas have planted 73,000 trees.
President Linda Sparrow was interviewed for Smooth FM Invisible Heroes podcast 28 Sept
UN Global Restoration Network: International resource for tree planting 29 Sept
UN advisor The Crowther Lab are looking to bring together revegetation projects worldwide, to provide resources, carbon carbon data, and support investment. Contact: email@example.com
Research into cattle trampling koalas QLD 25 Sept
University of Queensland researcher Alex Jiang has created a remote control koala to test whether cattle are more likely to trample koalas.
First wild koala breeding program NSW 21 Sept
Bushfire donations to Port Macquarie Koala Hospital will be used to build a wild koala breeding program.
Koala Hospital looks to community for clues on koala’s movements NSW 18 Sept
A female koala found in urban centre of Wauchope is now in care, and Port Macquarie Koala Hospital are reaching out to community to find out where she came from.
Koalas using water stations in Murrah NSW Sept 14
In heartening news since the bushfires, water stations installed in 10 locations in Murrah Flora Reserve, near Bermagui southern NSW, have recorded several koalas.
LATEST KOALA SCIENCE
Crowther Mathew S., Dargan Jessica R., Madani George, Rus Adrian I., Krockenberger Mark B., McArthur Clare, Moore Ben D., Lunney Daniel, Mella Valentina S. A. (2020) Comparison of three methods of estimating the population size of an arboreal mammal in a fragmented rural landscape. Wildlife Research
Context: Precise and accurate estimates of animal numbers are often essential for population and epidemiological models, as well as for guidance for population management and conservation. This is particularly true for threatened species in landscapes facing multiple threats. Estimates can be derived by different methods, but the question remains as to whether these estimates are comparable.
Aims: We compared three methods to estimate population numbers, namely, distance sampling, mark–recapture analysis, and home-range overlap analysis, for a population of the iconic threatened species, the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). This population occupies a heavily fragmented forest and woodland habitat on the Liverpool Plains, north-western New South Wales, Australia, on a mosaic of agricultural and mining lands.
Key results: All three methods produced similar estimates, with overlapping confidence intervals. Distance sampling required less expertise and time and had less impact on animals, but also had less precision; however, future estimates using the method could be improved by increasing both the number and expertise of the observers.
Conclusions: When less intrusive methods are preferred, or fewer specialised practitioners are available, we recommend distance sampling to obtain reliable estimates of koala numbers. Although its precision is lower with a low number of sightings, it does produce estimates of numbers similar to those from the other methods. However, combining multiple methods can be useful when other material (genetic, health and demographic) is also needed, or when decisions based on estimates are for high-profile threatened species requiring greater confidence. We recommend that all estimates of population numbers, and their precision or variation, be recorded and reported so that future studies can use them as prior information, increasing the precision of future surveys through Bayesian analyses.
Robbins, A., Hanger, J., Jelocnik, M. et al. Koala immunogenetics and chlamydial strain type are more directly involved in chlamydial disease progression in koalas from two south east Queensland koala populations than koala retrovirus subtypes. Sci Rep 10, 15013 (2020).
Chlamydial disease control is increasingly utilised as a management tool to stabilise declining koala populations, and yet we have a limited understanding of the factors that contribute to disease progression. To examine the impact of host and pathogen genetics, we selected two geographically separated south east Queensland koala populations, differentially affected by chlamydial disease, and analysed koala major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes, circulating strains of Chlamydia pecorum and koala retrovirus (KoRV) subtypes in longitudinally sampled, well-defined clinical groups. We found that koala immunogenetics and chlamydial genotypes differed between the populations. Disease progression was associated with specific MHC alleles, and we identified two putative susceptibility (DCb 03, DBb 04) and protective (DAb 10, UC 01:01) variants. Chlamydial genotypes belonging to both Multi-Locus Sequence Typing sequence type (ST) 69 and ompA genotype F were associated with disease progression, whereas ST 281 was associated with the absence of disease. We also detected different ompA genotypes, but not different STs, when long-term infections were monitored over time. By comparison, KoRV profiles were not significantly associated with disease progression. These findings suggest that chlamydial genotypes vary in pathogenicity and that koala immunogenetics and chlamydial strains are more directly involved in disease progression than KoRV subtypes.
Kevin Markwell (2020) Getting close to a national icon: an examination of the involvement of the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) in Australian tourism, Tourism Recreation Research,
Animal-based experiences are a significant feature of the attractions profile of many tourist destinations. The koala is an iconic species that plays an important role in Australian tourism, both symbolically and materially. Due to the species being endemic to Australia and its human baby-like qualities together with numerous and long-standing representations in popular culture, the koala has become an integral component of Australia’s destination identity and subsequently deployed by government and industry bodies to promote Australia as an international tourist destination. The koala continues to play a major role in a variety of tourist experiences, with captive presentations the predominant form of contemporary koala-based tourism. Drawing on Beardsworth and Bryman’s (2001) four modes of engagement with wild animals and utilising a historical and socio-cultural analytical approach, the paper examines the involvement of the koala in tourism through (i) representation via texts and images, (ii) presentation through captive exhibits, (iii) quasification through museum exhibits, souvenirs and koala sculpture trails and (iv) encounters in the wild. Anthropomorphic renderings of the koala appear to have been important in the construction of the koala as a tourist attraction as well as in its continued symbolic and material involvement in tourism.
KOALA SCIENCE IN BRIEF
Kasimov, V.; Stephenson, T.; Speight, N.; Chaber, A.-L.; Boardman, W.; Easther, R.; Hemmatzadeh, F. Identification and Prevalence of Phascolarctid Gammaherpesvirus Types 1 and 2 in South Australian Koala Populations. Viruses 2020, 12, 948.
Lizárraga D, Timms P, Quigley BL, Hanger J and Carver S (2020) Capturing Complex Vaccine-Immune-Disease Relationships for Free-Ranging Koalas: Higher Chlamydial Loads Are Associated With Less IL17 Expression and More Chlamydial Disease. Front. Vet. Sci. 7:530686
Ortiz-Baez, A.S., Cousins, K., Eden, J. et al. Meta-transcriptomic identification of Trypanosoma spp. in native wildlife species from Australia. Parasites Vectors 13, 447 (2020).
Phillips, S., Quigley, B.L., Olagoke, O. et al. Vaccination of koalas during antibiotic treatment for Chlamydia-induced cystitis induces an improved antibody response to Chlamydia pecorum. Sci Rep 10, 10152 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-67208-x
Seabrook Leonie, McAlpine Clive, Baxter Greg, Rhodes Jonathan, Bradley Adrian, Lunney Daniel (2011) Drought-driven change in wildlife distribution and numbers: a case study of koalas in south west Queensland. Wildlife Research 38, 509-524.
Context: Global climate change will lead to increased climate variability, including more frequent drought and heatwaves, in many areas of the world. This will affect the distribution and numbers of wildlife populations. In south-west Queensland, anecdotal reports indicated that a low density but significant koala population had been impacted by drought from 2001–2009, in accord with the predicted effects of climate change.
Aims: The study aimed to compare koala distribution and numbers in south-west Queensland in 2009 with pre-drought estimates from 1995–1997.
Methods: Community surveys and faecal pellet surveys were used to assess koala distribution. Population densities were estimated using the Faecal Standing Crop Method. From these densities, koala abundance in 10 habitat units was interpolated across the study region. Bootstrapping was used to estimate standard error. Climate data and land clearing were examined as possible explanations for changes in koala distribution and numbers between the two time periods.
Key results: Although there was only a minor change in distribution, there was an 80% decline in koala numbers across the study region, from a mean population of 59 000 in 1995 to 11 600 in 2009. Most summers between 2002 and 2007 were hotter and drier than average. Vegetation clearance was greatest in the eastern third of the study region, with the majority of clearing being in mixed eucalypt/acacia ecosystems and vegetation on elevated residuals.
Conclusions: Changes in the area of occupancy and numbers of koalas allowed us to conclude that drought significantly reduced koala populations and that they contracted to critical riparian habitats. Land clearing in the eastern part of the region may reduce the ability of koalas to move between habitats.
Implications: The increase in hotter and drier conditions expected with climate change will adversely affect koala populations in south-west Queensland and may be similar in other wildlife species in arid and semiarid regions. The effect of climate change on trailing edge populations may interact with habitat loss and fragmentation to increase extinction risks. Monitoring wildlife population dynamics at the margins of their geographic ranges will help to manage the impacts of climate change.