Demographic Forecasting in Koala Conservation
ANGELA M. PENN,* WILLIAM B. SHERWIN,*†† GREG GORDON,† DANIEL LUNNEY,‡ ALISTAIR MELZER,§ AND ROBERT C. LACY**
*School of Biological Science, University of New South Wales, NSW 2052, Australia
†Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 155, Albert Street, QLD 4002 Australia
‡Biodiversity Survey and Research Division, New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 1967, Hurstville, NSW 2220, Australia
§Faculty of Arts, Health and Sciences, Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, QLD 4702, Australia
**Department of Conservation Biology, Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Center, Chicago Zoological Society, Brookfield, IL 60513, U.S.A.
The koala currently needs conservation intervention. There is clear evidence of decline in many populations, but the existence of other stable or expanding populations offers the possibility of a variety of creative solutions to their conservation problems. The 1998 National Koala Conservation Strategy emphasizes the need to obtain demographic information and to use this information to assess management options for koalas. We need accurate diagnoses of the status of koala populations and forecasts of their demographic future with and without particular management actions. In a qualitative fashion, this process has been undertaken many times on a local and national scale. Quantitative demographic forecasting tools are increasingly available, and koala management could benefit from their application both at the scale of individual populations and more broadly. There is already a considerable body of suitable data on the dispersal, effects of normal and catastrophic environmental variation on reproduction and survival, and on the effects of habitat change. Demographic forecasting, however, is hampered because the full suite of information is rarely available from a single population. In two Queensland populations, retrospective population viability analyses provided forecasts that were in agreement with observed population trends. Work is needed to determine whether data from one population can be applied to other populations. Models can then be developed to make projections at a multipopulation level on the basis of local population dynamics and dispersal. Certain koala populations, because of their long history of study, offer the opportunity to test demographic models retrospectively. These tests will not only aid in fine-tuning the models for koala biology and data but will also assist with the more general process of validating the models.