Research, Connect, Protect



Introduction: an Interdisciplinary Effort for Koala Conservation

Steven J. Cork
Guest Editor

CSIRO Wildlife and Ecology, G.P.O. Box 284 Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia, email

Tim W. Clark
Guest Editor

School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511, U.S.A., and Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, Box 2705, Jackson, WY 83001, U.S.A, email

Nicole Mazur
Guest Editor

Urban and Environmental Research Program, Research School for the Social Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia. Current address: The Centre for Educational Development and Academic Methods, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia, email


The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is an ecologically, physiologically, and politically unique species and is one of the most widely recognized mammals in the world. It is of the right size and appearance to be likened to a teddy bear and to elicit feelings from humans similar to those a human child does (Gould 1980). The koala is an icon in Australia and other societies, appearing in such diverse places as children’s books and cartoons, advertising for foods and medicines and a wide range of other products, and serving as mascots for Australian sporting teams, cultural groups, and international business delegations (Phillips 1990). Recently, the koala has been at the center of a high-profile conservation debate among all levels of Australian government, nongovernmental groups, universities, citizens, and even interest groups in other countries, including Japan and the United States, about how best to maintain viable wild koala populations and their habitat. Currently, participants in the debate are not fully cognizant of the need to reconcile polarized views about the koala or of the negative impact unresolved conflicts have on the overall decision-making process regarding koala conservation.

This special section of Conservation Biology represents a cooperative, interdisciplinary effort by Australian and U.S. researchers and policymakers to understand the status and kinds of knowledge needed to conserve koalas, and the adequacy of the decision-making process by which koala conservation might be achieved. A decision process
is a set of interconnected activities, phases, or stages focused on defining and solving a problem. It includes gathering of information, open and informed debate, development of plans and actions, implementation, review or evaluation, and termination of programs (Clark & Brunner 1996). The quality of any conservation effort depends on the type of knowledge and the quality of decision-making processes being used; poor policy and management flow from weaknesses in any of the components of the decision-making process. The intense debate and conflict taking place in koala conservation are signs that the decision process is not working well. Appraisals and recommendations of the kind described here can facilitate refinement of approaches to conservation problems and their solutions (Clark et al. 2000).

The contributing authors of this special section come from diverse backgrounds and affiliations. They include academics, government and nongovernment managers, and conservation advocates. Their specialties include sociology, population and habitat ecology, genetics, demography, conservation biology, organization and policy studies, natural resources policy, and management research. These papers mark the first systematic, interdisciplinary, and holistic attempt to address the decision-making process for koala conservation. Although previous symposia have addressed aspects of information gathering and conservation policy (Bergin 1978; Lee et al. 1990; Lunney et al. 1990; Australian Koala Foundation, 1997; Cork et al. 1995; Gordon 1996; Melzer et al. 1997), they did not examine the decision process from a systems perspective or recommend improvements to the overall system that could lead to more effective conservation of koalas.