Climate-driven changes in diet composition and physiological stress in an arboreal folivore at the semi-arid edge of its distribution
Nicole Davies a,*, Galina Gramotnev b, Leonie Seabrook b, Clive McAlpine b, Greg Baxter b, Daniel Lunney c,d, Adrian Bradley a
a The University of Queensland, School of Biomedical Sciences, St Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia
b The University of Queensland, Landscape Ecology and Conservation Group, School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, St Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia
c Office of Environment and Heritage NSW, PO Box 1967, Hurstville, New South Wales 2220, Australia
d School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, Murdoch University, Western Australia 6150, Australia
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +61 0448 956 015.
Species, particularly foliovores, at the trailing edge of their geographical range are likely to be most vulnerable to climate change as they respond to physiological stress and the decline in the nutrient richness of their food source. We investigate the effect of environmental conditions on diet composition, resource use, and physiological stress of koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) in the semi-arid landscapes of southwest Queensland, Australia, across three different biogeographic regions. Fresh faecal pellets were collected to measure cortisol metabolites and assess diet. Regression analyses were used to relate the diet composition and physiological stress of wild koalas to environmental variables. The impact of drought was apparent, with higher faecal cortisol metabolites (FCM) levels recorded during drought conditions compared with post-flood conditions. Diet composition also changed between drought and post-flood conditions, with diets during drought being mainly composed of species with high leaf moisture content. Low minimum temperatures increased FCM concentrations, and these effects were greater during drought conditions. The results demonstrate the importance of integrating physiological assessments into ecological studies to identify stressors that have the potential to compromise the long-term survival of threatened species, as well as the need to identify the resources required for their continued survival.