Dietary Specialization and Eucalyptus Species Preferences in Queensland Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) 

Alexis L. Higgins,1 Fred B. Bercovitch,1 Jennifer R. Tobey,1* and Chris Hamlin Andrus2 

1San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research, Escondido, California

2Collection Husbandry Science Department, San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California


Koalas specialize on Eucalyptus leaves, but also feed selectively. Food choice is not random, but depends on various factors that are not well understood, although most research has focused on the role of secondary plant compounds. We studied the feeding choices of four adult male koalas housed at the San Diego Zoo. All subjects had a choice of nine types of Eucalyptus leaves over the eightweek study. The most preferred species was E. camuldulensis, but individual males exhibited different feeding preferences. We conclude that food selectivity among koalas is probably due to multiple factors, rather than only a consequence of secondary plant chemicals. A combination of intrinsic factors, such as developmental trajectory and reproductive state, as well as extrinsic factors, such as leaf chemical fingerprint and moisture, probably interact to shape koala foraging preferences. Koalas forage almost exclusively on Eucalyptus species, but have evolved an adaptive flexibility, enabling them to exploit various Eucalyptus species.