A review of climatic change as a determinant of the viability of koala populations

Hailee J. RecklessA,C, Michael MurrayB and Mathew S. CrowtherA

ASchool of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.

BDiscipline of Pharmacology, School of Medical Sciences, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.

CCorresponding author. Email:


The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) occupies a broad range of eastern and southern Australia, extending over tropical coastal, semiarid inland and temperate regions. In many areas koala populations are under threat, in particular from the direct and indirect effects of ongoing habitat destruction due to increased urbanisation and other anthropogenic processes. Climate change presents additional threats to the integrity of koala habitats because many species of food and non-food trees have narrow climate envelopes and are unable to adapt to altered temperatures and rainfall. Climate extremes also produce physiological stresses in koalas that may increase the likelihood of outbreaks of chlamydiosis and other diseases. Climate change-related increases in the relative content of toxic chemicals in leaves are further stresses to the koala after ingestion. In addition, populations that originated from a small number of founder individuals are at potential risk due to the irrelatively low genetic diversity. Strategies that maintain residual habitat fragments and promote the construction of new refugia are now being formulated. Modelling of the impact of habitat metrics on koala distribution is providing important information that can be used in the rehabilitation of koala refugia. In future these models could be augmented with metrics that describe koala homeostasis to inform local conservation strategies. These considerations are also relevant for the maintenance of other taxa in the wider ecosystem that are also at risk from habitat destruction and climate change.