Aversive behaviour by koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) during the course of a music festival in northern New South Wales, Australia
Phillips, S 2016, Australian Mammalogy, vol. 38, pp. 158-163.
By monitoring changes in movement and behaviour of a resident koala population, this study investigated the extent of disturbance caused by a five-day musical festival in northern New South Wales. Seven koalas were monitored over a period of 6 months, whereby three koalas demonstrated extreme aversive behaviour in response to the festival, evacuating their known ranging areas. Three other koalas displayed aversive responses, but remained within known ranging areas.
Eleven koalas inhabiting the festival site were captured and fitted with radio-frequency transmitters, to be tracked three months prior to and after the music festival. Most individuals inhabited areas within 500m of festival’s centre. Findings showed that all koalas maintained normal movement patters prior to and after the festival, yet two different responses were observed during the festival. Where a koala’s core activity area was located within 500m of the festival’s centre, evacuative movements occurred perpendicular to and away from the stage area, outside of known home ranges. The second response type, exhibited by koalas with home ranges further away from the festival, was not as extreme, with individuals remaining within their home ranges. Response type is thus clearly related to home range proximity to the disturbance origin, with evacuative movements occurring within a critical distance of 525m. Implications of such responses may be significant, potentially resulting in lowered reproductive success in sensitive individuals and ultimately, physiological and/or fitness costs. Increased cortisol levels induced by stressful events have also been linked to the development of diseases such as Chlamydia. However, given that most koalas returned to their original core area, the disturbance described in this study is likely to have had only a short-term influence.
Overall, six out of seven koalas for which there existed adequate data demonstrated evasive behaviour in response to a short-term, auditory disturbance. Findings highlight the need for more sensitive management of music events in order minimise potential impacts upon koalas in adjacent forest areas.
Summarised by Julian Radford-Smith
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