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Government, policy & community

Conserving koalas: A review of the contrasting regional trends, outlooks and policy challenges

McAlpine, C, Lunney, D, Melzer, A, Menkhorst, P, Phillips, S, Phalen, D, Ellis, W, Foley, W, Baxter, G, de Villiers, D, Kavanagh, R, Adams-Hosking, C, Todd, C, Whisson, D, Molsher, R, Walter, M, Lawler, I & Close, R 2015, Biological Conservation, vol. 192, pp. 226-236.

The koala has suffered a 50% decline in its distribution since European colonisation began in Australia, and consequently its conservation has become a national priority. The purpose of this review was to synthesise current knowledge of koala populations and their threats to identify a way forward for their conservation.

  The koala has suffered a 50% decline in its distribution since European colonisation began in Australia. The koala is listed as vulnerable in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory under federal legislation whereas in Victoria and South Australia some populations are locally overabundant. Habitat clearing for urban development is the chief cause of koala decline in Southeast Queensland whereas extended droughts and heat waves are responsible for population declines occurring further inland. Climate change will increase the severity and prevalence of droughts and heat waves and reduce the range and quality of Eucalyptus trees. New coal and coal seam gas mine developments are also expected to harm koalas. Not only does mining clear koala habitat, it also increases the frequency of road and rail traffic near koala habitat, increasing the chance of vehicle collisions.

  The authors make several recommendations to improve outcomes for wild koalas. Firstly, as koala populations differ in their vulnerability across their range, koala conservation and management policies need to have a regional approach to be successful. Secondly, the aforementioned emerging threats of climate change and mining need to be addressed in future koala conservation policy planning, without disregarding the most prominent threat, habitat destruction, and other common threats such as vehicle collision, dog attacks and disease. To reduce the negative impact of mining on koalas, the opening of new mines must require a commitment to rehabilitate the land after closure and initiate environmental impact mitigation programmes both on and beyond the mine site throughout the life of the mine.

  As population trends and threatening processes vary between regions, conserving the koala will be a complex and difficult task. The benefits of koala conservation, however, extend beyond the species itself. The iconic status of the koala draws public attention to the wider issues affecting all biodiversity and many of the conservation and management challenges regarding koalas have broad applicability to other species. Koala conservation can similarly enhance local ecosystem services and provide economic benefits to communities in the form of ecotourism.


Summarised by Alexander Hendry


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