KOALA NEWS & SCIENCE

An informative monthly newsletter about successes & important announcements in koala conservation, and the latest scientific publications about koalas.
November 2021
Subscribe here: https://mailchi.mp/808fc4af1ee0/koala-news-science

“Do we love koalas enough?” Stuart Blanch asks ABC radio QLD 12 November
WWF’s Dr Stuart Blanch spoke to ABC breakfast radio about the petition to uplist koalas to endangered, whether it will make a difference, and how they are getting 1000 signatures every day. When the host said “Everybody loves koalas” he replied “But do we love them enough? I don’t think we love koalas nearly as much as we say we do, because our actions are driving them to extinction.”
https://www.abc.net.au/radio/brisbane/programs/mornings/stuart-blanch/13628652
Sign petition here: https://www.wwf.org.au/get-involved/koalas-forever-in-nsw#gs.i35q4h

Funding for Gippsland Landcare groups to plant trees VIC 16 November
15 Landcare groups in West and South Gippsland will share in $348,293 in funding. A majority of funding will be spent on protecting remnant vegetation and planting projects.
https://sgst.com.au/2021/11/boost-for-landcare-groups/

Koala deaths on road reduced around Emerald QLD 17 November
After a koala sighting in Emerald, central Qld, ABC Radio spoke to local wildlife shelter about the reduction in koala mortality as a result of new fauna crossings and fencing on Peak Downs Hwy. More needs to be done along the coal train line though, where many deaths occur.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-11-17/koala-sightings-central-qld-emerald-good-news/100624968

Petition to protect 200 hectares of koala forest receives 24,970 signatures NSW 25 November
Residents and koala groups have come together to create a petition to save koala habitat at Lake Innes near Port Macquarie. The petition was tabled in NSW parliament and will be debated in February. The petition was supported by local member Leslie Williams.
https://www.portnews.com.au/story/7523451/petition-to-save-prime-koala-land-at-lake-innes-tabled-in-nsw-parliament/

New koala colony west of Sydney found as a result of COVID lockdowns 11 November
Bird guide and naturalist Steve Anyon-Smith speaks to Wendy Harmer & Robbie Buck on ABC breakfast about how he and Tom Kristensen found a previously unknown colony of wild koalas in Heathcote National Park.
https://www.abc.net.au/radio/sydney/programs/breakfast/koala/13626654

Cherry Tree SF declared core Koala Habitat NSW 24 November
NEFA have confirmed that Cherry Tree State Forest, west of Casino, is Core Koala Habitat, and are pushing to have the area removed from government logging plans.
https://www.echo.net.au/2021/11/stop-logging-core-koala-habitat-at-cherry-tree-state-forest/

Koalas once again the focus of Climate Change protests VIC NSW 6 November
Extinction Rebellion protests in Melbourne & Sydney featured a huge smouldering koala to call on the Australian government to take action on climate change.
https://www.news.com.au/national/breaking-news/activists-used-a-burning-koala-prop-to-highlight-climate-crisis/news-story/3e8f1b3da05d197e82a934d6081d5fb6

Wildlife rescuers trained to check bushfire areas sooner NSW 15 November
Friends of The Koala volunteers have received special training in bushfire safety so that they can enter firegrounds as quickly as possible to rescue injured animals.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-11-15/friends-of-koala-volunteers-get-bushfire-training/100576016

Tweed Council pushes back against SEPP NSW 29 October
Tweed Mayor Chris Cherry moved a notice of motion asking that Tweed Council maintain ‘dual consent provisions for Forestry, including Private Native Forestry in Local Environmental Plans’. The vote was carried in favour.
https://www.echo.net.au/2021/10/tweed-council-seeks-dual-consent-for-land-clearing-to-protect-koalas/

Koala researcher wins Australian Academy of Science grant
Shelby Ryan, PhD candidate at the University of Newcastle, is one of three researchers to be awarded a grant from the Margaret Middleton Fund. Shelby’s research will focus on drone monitoring technology to assess koala population densities.
https://www.science.org.au/academy-newsletter/november-2021-155/margaret-middleton-fund-recipients-protect-penguins-koalas-and

Planting trees for koalas in Australian Geographic 29 November
“I know these koalas personally. I won’t be happy until I’ve planted enough to save every single one of them.” Koala Clancy president speaks to AG about koala nose patterns, bushfires and planting trees.
https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/travel/travel-with-us/2021/11/plant-a-tree-save-a-koala/

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LATEST KOALA SCIENCE:

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Dave L. Mitchell, Mariela Soto-Berelov, Simon D. Jones. (2021) Regional Variation in Forest Canopy Height and Implications of Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) Habitat Mapping and Forest and Forest Management. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/1999-4907/12/11/1494

Previous research has shown that the Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) prefers larger trees, potentially making this a key factor influencing koala habitat quality. Generally, tree height is considered at regional scales which may overlook variation at patch or local scales. In this study, we aimed to derive a set of parameters to assist in classifying koala habitat in terms of tree height, which can then be used as an overlay for existing habitat maps. To determine canopy height variation within a specific forest community across a broad area in eastern Australia, we used freely available Airborne Laser Scanning (ALS) data and adopted a straightforward approach by extracting maximum-height ALS returns within a total of 288 30 m × 30 m “virtual” ALS plots. Our findings show that while maximum tree heights generally fall within published regional-scale parameters (mean height 33.2 m), they vary significantly between subregions (mean height 28.8–39.0 m), within subregions (e.g., mean height 21.3–29.4 m), and at local scales, the tree heights vary in response to previous land-use (mean height 28.0–34.2 m). A canopy height dataset useful for habitat management needs to recognise and incorporate these variations. To examine how this information might be synthesised into a usable map, we used a wall-to-wall canopy height map derived from ALS to investigate spatial and nonspatial clustering techniques that capture canopy height variability at both intra-subregional (100s of hectares) and local (60 hectare) scales. We found that nonspatial K-medians clustering with three or four height classes is suited to intra-subregional extents because it allows for simultaneous assessment and comparison of multiple forest community polygons. Spatially constrained clustering algorithms are suited to individual polygons, and we recommend the use of the Redcap algorithm because it delineates contiguous height classes recognisable on a map. For habitat management, an overlay combining these height classification approaches as separate attributes would provide the greatest utility at a range of scales. In addition to koala habitat management, canopy height maps could also assist in managing other fauna; identifying forest disturbance, regenerating forest, and old-growth forest; and identifying errors in existing forest maps.

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Alistair Melzer & Leif Black. (2021) Koala road kills are linked to landscape attributes on Central Queensland’s Peak Downs Highway. Retrieved from http://www.publish.csiro.au/AM/justaccepted/AM21018

Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) road kills occur frequently along the Peak Downs highway through the Clarke-Connors ranges. Highway upgrades allowed mitigation of koala-vehicle collision frequency and retaining koala population connectivity. This project aimed to understand road-kill distribution to inform protective infrastructure investment. Koala road-kills were associated with: (1) streams and associated alluvia where the dominant vegetation included Eucalyptus tereticornis and E. platyphylla; (2) ridges supporting E. drepanophylla open forest/woodlandabutting streams or alluvia; and (3) mid-lower slopes, dominated by E. drepanophylla, that were dissected by minor streams fringed by E. tereticornis +/- E. platyphylla. Road kills did not occur in E. drepanophylla open forest/woodland on ridge upper slopes, crests or on hills, although koalas occur in this landscape. Explaining why koala road kills are linked to landscape features requires investigation. It is likely that: (1) landscape elements associated with drainage lines, alluvia and E. tereticornis support a relatively high koala abundance, and hence the road-kill risk is correspondingly higher; and (2) the engineered road architecture and road verge characteristics in these landscape elements are conducive to koala road crossings.

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Bradley Law, Leroy Gonsvales, Joanna Burgar, Tracey Brassil, Isobel Kerr, Lachlan Wilmott, Kylie Madden, Martin Smith, Valentina Mella, Matthew Crowther, Mark Krockenberger, Adrian Rus, Rod Pietsch, Anthony Truskinger, Philip Eichinski, Paul Roe. (2021) Estimating and validating koala Phascolarctos cinereus density estimates from acoustic arrays using spatial count modelling. Retrieved from http://www.publish.csiro.au/WR/justaccepted/WR21072

Context: It is notoriously difficult to estimate the size of animal populations, especially for cryptic or threatened species that occur in low numbers. Recent advances with acoustic sensors make the detection of animal populations cost effective when coupled with software that can recognise species-specific calls. Aims: We assess the potential for acoustic sensors to estimate koala Phascolarctos cinereus density, when individuals are not identified, using spatial count models. Sites were selected where previous independent estimates of density were available. Methods: We established acoustic arrays at each of five sites representing different environments and densities of koalas in New South Wales. To assess reliability, we compared male koala density estimates derived from spatial count modelling to independently derived estimates for each site. Key Results: A total 11,312 koala bellows were verified across our five arrays. Koalas were detected at most of our sample locations (96-100 % of sensors; n=130) compared to low detection rates from rapid scat searches at trees near each sensor (scats at < 2 % of trees searched; n=889, except one site where scats were present at 69 % of trees; n=129). Independent estimates of koala density at our study areas varied from a minimum of 0.02 male koalas ha-1 to 0.32 ha-1. Acoustic arrays and the spatial count method yielded plausible estimates of male koala density, which when converted to total koalas (assuming 1:1 sex ratio) were mostly equivalent to independent estimates previously derived for each site. The greatest discrepancy occurred where the acoustic estimate was larger (though within the bounds of uncertainty) than the independent mark-recapture estimate at a fragmented, high koala density site. Conclusions: Spatial count modelling of acoustic data from arrays provide plausible and reliable estimates of koala density and, importantly, associated measures of uncertainty as well as an ability to model spatial variations in density across an array. Caution is needed when applying models to higher density populations where home ranges overlap extensively and calls are evenly spread across the array. Implications: The results add to the opportunities of acoustic methods for wildlife, especially where monitoring of density requires cost-effective repeat surveys.

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FEATURE PAPER:

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W. Ellis, A. Melzer, I. Clifton, F. Carrick; Climate change and the koala Phascolarctos cinereus: water and energy. Australian Zoologist 1 January 2010; 35 (2): 369–377. doi: https://doi.org/10.7882/AZ.2010.025
https://meridian.allenpress.com/australian-zoologist/article/35/2/369/135008/Climate-change-and-the-koala-Phascolarctos

We studied two groups of koalas during a drought in central Queensland to investigate potential impacts of climatic variability on the physiology and behaviour of this species. The tree use, water turnover, field metabolic rate and diet of koalas during autumn and spring were compared to a similar study of koalas in summer and winter, also in central Queensland, to generate a seasonal picture of the response of koalas to climatic variation. We also compared the microclimate temperature of a range of food and non-food tree species against daily ambient temperatures, to examine the benefit to koalas of using of non-food species. Field metabolic rate, adjusted for body mass, was significantly higher in spring than autumn and there was no difference between males and females. Neither females with pouch young nor those with back young had significantly different FMR to that of females without young, confirming that koalas may compartmentalize energy demands during lactation. Estimations of theoretical water influx, determined from FMR of koalas, were generally lower than water flux determined by tritiated water turnover. This mismatch could indicate that koalas are able to modify their assimilation of energy from browse in order to maximize water intake. Temperature was generally lower in non-food trees used by koalas in daytime than in the food trees, which were generally used at night. Leaf moisture may influence tree selection during periods of extremely high or low temperature, but the physical attributes of trees, such as their capacity to “buffer” koalas against extremes of ambient temperature, appear to be important to selection by koalas. We conclude that koalas adapt their behaviour, using shady trees during the day, but might also employ physiological adaptations, to access sufficient water for evaporative cooling during periods of hot, dry weather.

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Previous Koala News & Science here: http://www.wildkoaladay.com.au/koala-news-science/koala-news-science-october-2021/

Written by Janine Duffy President, Koala Clancy Foundation.
with support from Cheryl Egan, Organiser, Wild Koala Day and Zoe Reynolds

Please send your positive, important news & publications to president@koalaclancyfoundation.org.au before 29th of each month for possible inclusion.