Understanding koalas in all kinds of weather

9 July 2014

Proposed research into koala conservation has yielded success in the latest round of Australian Research Council Linkage grants.

Koalas in the Gunnedah area can sleep a little more soundly now that Dr Mathew Crowther has been successful in the latest round of ARC Linkage funding. "The grant is to continue our work on the koalas on the Liverpool Plains, near Gunnedah," Mat explained. "With changing climatic conditions, we have seen a big drop in koala numbers in an area in which they were doing well."

Understanding the habits and habitat of Australia's iconic Koala is the focus of an ARC Linkage grant
Understanding the habits and habitat of Australia's iconic Koala is the focus of an ARC Linkage grant

The Linkage Project partners the School of Biological Sciences with the Office of Environment and Heritage NSW and Shenhua Watermark Coal Pty Ltd. "All parties are interested in the best way to conserve koala habitat and also to rehabilitate habitat to increase the local koala population." Koalas are under increasing pressure, not only from climate change, but also from landscape changes from mining - particularly coal and coal-seam gas. Shenhua Watermark proposes to mine for coal on the Liverpool Plains. "They want to ensure, not only that there are no koala losses, but they want to increase the koala population."

The Office of Environment and Heritage NSW is responsible for the conservation and planning of threatened species, which is where they fit into this partnership. "The Office also supplies Dr Dan Lunney, a well known expert in koalas and now Adjunct Professor in the School," said Mat.

Mat and his collaborators will study how koalas choose trees and landscape patches, particularly with regards to leaf and soil chemistry. "We will also be studying the role of disease, and how that interacts with environmental change, in driving koala population numbers and distribution."

"We hope to get a fine understanding of the habitat of koalas, under all weather conditions." In addition they hope to understand how koalas can choose trees to optimise shelter, nutrients and water, while minimizes the effects of plant toxins.

The ARC funding is worth more than $380K and will expire in 2017. "ARC grants are tough, and this apparently was the toughest round," Mat said. "Hence when it sunk in, it was a very pleasant surprise. I am glad the hard work paid off." Well done Mat, although it sounds like the hard work has just begun!