2022 project summaries
2019 project summaries
|Australian Museum Research Institute, Australian Museum
||Genetic management of threatened koala populations: Using exome sequencing to define meaningful conservation goals
|Endeavour Veterinary Ecology Pty. Ltd.
||Reviewing koala relocation practices to maximise prospects for successful koala translocation programs
|NSW Department of Planning and Environment
||Assessing koala occupancy in private native forests of north-east NSW
|Science for Wildlife
||A cross-disciplinary approach to characterising koala population status, landscape and climate refugia across the Blue Mountains region, to inform long-term management
|University of Queensland
||Maximising outcomes for koalas from private land
|University of Sydney
||Impacts and drivers of chlamydial disease in the koala: Relationships between the host, pathogen and environment
|University of Sydney
||Vaccination against chlamydiosis: An effective disease management tool in wild populations?
|University of the Sunshine Coast
||Testing a combination vaccine to protect koalas against the dual threats of chlamydia and koala retrovirus
||Bonnie Quigley and Peter Timms
|University of Technology Sydney
||New and improved chlamydial treatment to reduce disease burden
|Western Sydney University
||Understanding and mapping how thermal and dietary constraints combine to restrict koala habitat and determine refugia
Vaccination of koalas at the interface between chlamydia-positive and chlamydia-negative koala populations
University of Sydney
Chlamydia is the major infectious agent affecting koala populations within New South Wales. Vaccination against Chlamydia pecorum offers hope as a management tool to address disease impacts and improve population outcomes for koalas. Within the Sydney Basin and Southern Highlands regions, koala populations in the northern zone are currently free of chlamydiosis, while in the southern zone there is a prevalence of chlamydiosis of approximately 45%. The central zone (the interface) has a low prevalence of chlamydiosis, and there is a risk that koala movement will result in transmission of disease to the chlamydia-free population.
This project aims to assess if vaccination against C. pecorum in wild koala populations can result in improved population outcomes and whether vaccination may provide a suitable management tool at the interface between populations with and without chlamydiosis.
Evaluating the protection provided by the USC-developed koala chlamydia vaccine at the population level
University of Sunshine Coast
A chlamydia vaccine has been developed and extensively tested on captive koalas and wild koalas in wildlife hospitals (with no follow-up) and in controlled wild populations in which other major management practices are also being implemented. Together, these trials have shown that a strong immune response to C. pecorum can be generated. However, the effectiveness of the vaccine at lowering infection in wild unmanaged koala populations is unknown.
This project will assess the efficacy of the vaccine for managing chlamydia infections in wild populations. The project will assess the population effect of the koala chlamydia vaccine on the chlamydia infection prevalence of koalas in Ruthven, northern New South Wales. Findings from this trial will help to inform future vaccine programs, including the required proportion of a koala population that needs to be vaccinated for the vaccination to have a population effect.
The effect of fire on koala diet composition and quality
Australian National University
After fire, many eucalypts produce new leaves from epicormic buds under the bark. These leaves can differ substantially in nutritional quality from a mature intact canopy, which likely affects their value as food for koalas and the capacity of the landscape to support a koala population. However, little is known about whether koalas alter their diet after fire in response to changes in the relative value of available food.
This project will answer key questions about the impact of fire on koala diet choices and habitat nutritional quality, which will assist with the future management of koala populations after fire. This includes the capacity of burnt habitat to support koala population recovery. The findings could also be used to inform revegetation activities to ensure that restored habitats can support koalas under a range of environmental conditions.
Do environmental stressors increase retrovirus activity and exacerbate disease in koalas?
University of Queensland
Koalas are now under threat of extinction, with wild populations in New South Wales and Queensland in steep decline. The primary driver of this decline is human-induced environmental change, including habitat loss and fragmentation, increased interaction with livestock and domestic animals, and climate change, which has led to an increased severity in bushfires, heatwaves, and droughts. Koala populations are also heavily impacted by diseases, particularly chlamydia infections, that threaten population viability through high rates of infertility and mortality. Koala retrovirus is also common throughout these populations and is strongly associated with the diseases afflicting koalas.
This project will study the links between environmental stressors, the retrovirus and resulting disease. The research will provide an understanding of how human changes to the landscape and disease affect koalas’ stress levels and retrovirus activity. It will establish how stress affects the koala’s ability to control the retrovirus, providing general predictions of how koala population health is impacted by environmental stressors.
Understanding drivers and identifying solutions to koala habitat loss and degradation
University of Queensland
The loss and degradation of koala habitat in New South Wales is a major threat to the species’ continued persistence and is a key reason it has been listed as endangered by the Australian Government. To develop effective conservation strategies for the koala in New South Wales, a better understanding of the drivers of habitat loss and degradation and the effectiveness of alternative strategies for retaining koala habitat is needed. This would allow better identification of where habitat loss is a risk now and into the future and help to prioritise the conservation actions that are most likely to have the best outcomes.
This project will develop statewide models of the drivers of koala habitat loss and degradation and measure the impact of past koala conservation and land management settings on changes in koala habitat. Future scenarios of plausible alternative conservation and land management measures will also be developed. This will enable assessment of the contribution of koala conservation measures in achieving habitat retention and assist decision makers to enact effective policy and management to ensure koala persistence and recovery into the future.
A quantitative model of tree use by free-ranging koalas
Effective conservation of free‐ranging koala populations has been impeded by a poor understanding of which elements of the landscape influence habitat use. Using an existing 20-year data set, this project will look at developing a statewide, hierarchical approach to understanding tree selection and associated aspects of habitat use by free‐ranging koalas.
The project will provide an assessment of tree selection and habitat use, mathematical models relating to tree use, and recommendations as to how this knowledge can be applied to koala habitat classification and modelling.
Evaluating the drivers of koalas' landscape use to inform management under climate change
Science for Wildlife
Bushfires of increasing intensity and frequency threaten koalas in large intact areas of bushland. Additionally, land management practices outside of protected areas further compound the impacts of a changing climate, with threats from developed lands including removal and fragmentation of habitats and associated increased heat stress and worsening flooding impacts. The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area contains a high diversity of environments, with varying weather conditions, elevation and tree species and supports important refuges for koalas and other species under climate change.
This project will investigate fine-scale landscape use by koalas against environmental and land use variables to determine what influences koala occupancy. The project will inform our understanding of the interactions between climate, disease, habitat quality and koala population dynamics. It will provide information that assists in the identification and prioritisation of landscape characteristics important to retain to ensure a future for koalas under climate change.
Koalas and climate change: Heat stress induced mortality
University of Sydney
Koalas are expected to continue to experience severe contractions in their distribution as the weather becomes warmer and drier due to climate change. Heat stress has been reported as a cause of mortality in koalas across their geographic range but the relationship between temperature and heat stress in koalas across different environmental settings is unclear.
Climate change is an immediate threat that is already taking its toll on koala populations and therefore an effective forecasting tool to identify upcoming periods of risk and to enable planning for mitigation measures is needed. This project will investigate the association between heat stress and mortality in koalas across their range in New South Wales based on past weather events and historical clinical records of the admission of koalas into care, including mortality. This information will be used to develop a forecasting tool to predict heat stress risk for koalas, and guidelines for intervention for koala populations in high-risk areas will be developed.
Genetic management of threatened koala populations: Using exome sequencing to define meaningful conservation goals
Australian Museum Research Institute
Koalas respond to changes in their environment through changes in their physiology and behaviour or by moving into different areas of suitable habitat. As groups of koalas move apart and adapt to new environments, their genetic makeup gradually changes in response. Understanding how environmental change has shaped the genetic diversity of koala populations is essential for predicting how they will adapt to accelerating, human-driven environmental challenges – and we now have the advanced technologies and tools to do so.
This project will characterise the genetic diversity of koalas in New South Wales to better understand the genetic mechanisms of koala adaptation to environmental change. Genetic profiles of koala populations can then be used to improve conservation and management of at-risk populations. By defining koala populations based on their genetic profiles, we can better assess the processes contributing to the fragmentation of koala populations in New South Wales and make better decisions about where we reintroduce, or move, koalas in the future.
Reviewing koala relocation practices to maximise prospects for successful koala translocation programs
Endeavour Veterinary Ecology Pty. Ltd.
Sometimes threatened animals can be moved to new areas for their protection or to assist with the reinstatement of dwindling populations. Translocation and relocation of koalas require careful consideration of many factors, from evaluating habitat quality, availability and security to assessing genetic differences and possible disease transmission between existing and introduced populations.
This project will consolidate our shared knowledge of why and when koalas should be moved by reviewing published research, consulting current researchers and compiling guidelines and protocols in use. This review will investigate the effectiveness and challenges associated with koala relocation and translocation, as well as inform the design of future translocation trials and site selection. Better design of trials prevents duplication of previous research, and ensures projects address knowledge gaps to increase prospects for successful koala translocation programs.
Assessing koala occupancy in private native forests of north-east NSW
NSW Department of Planning and Environment
In north-east New South Wales, private native forests support extensive koala habitat and are likely home to many koalas, but few formal surveys have been conducted in these forests and it is unclear how management of this significant component of koala habitat influences koala occupancy.
This project will survey private native forests on the north coast of New South Wales using acoustic sensors with the data used to model koala occupancy. In doing so, the influences of private native forest management practices – now governed by the PNF Code of Practice for Northern NSW – on koala populations can be assessed. This study will complement recent surveys in publicly managed forests.
A cross-disciplinary approach to characterising koala population status, landscape use and climate refugia across the Blue Mountains region, to inform long-term management
Science for Wildlife
The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (GBMWHA) provides a diverse range of habitats for koalas and supports the most genetically diverse koala population in Australia. This area will become an increasingly important area for koalas, serving as a refuge for koalas as other areas to the west in NSW become hotter and dryer, and whilst development pressures persist to the east of the protected area. But little is known about the distribution and diversity of koala populations, their habitat preferences or the prevalence of disease in this area which spans a million hectares of national park and wilderness.
In this study, a new low-cost genomic profiling tool will be developed to map regional genetic diversity of koalas in unsurveyed areas of the GBMWHA. This low-cost tool will then be available to researchers Australia-wide. Koala populations in the GBMWHA area will also be monitored to assess disease prevalence and characterise their habitat preferences under different environmental conditions to evaluate which habitats are most likely to be important for them under a changing climate. This knowledge can then inform best practice for the management of diverse koala populations and koala habitat across public and private land. The project will ensure that work to restore habitat and help koalas adapt is done in the places most likely to support koalas in the long-term.
Maximising outcomes for koalas on private land
University of Queensland
Most koalas in New South Wales occur on private land and therefore private land conservation is critical to protecting koalas and their habitat in New South Wales. Yet few resources are available to inform decisions about how best to invest in private land conservation that will protect koala populations.
This project will develop new tools and guidance for private land conservation and engagement with landholders. Combining ecological and economic analyses, this project will identify how and where the benefits for koalas can be maximised per dollar spent through private land conservation investments. The impacts of projected climate change on koala habitats will be considered and appropriate strategies designed to future-proof investments. The project will also inform broader policy decisions and conservation.
Impacts and drivers of chlamydial disease in the koala: Relationships between the host, pathogen and environment
University of Sydney
Understanding the susceptibility of koalas to chlamydia requires a clearer picture of the complex factors which interact to drive disease. So far, studies of the impact of chlamydia on koala populations have focused on isolated factors involved. This holistic study will take a whole-system approach to look at factors associated with chlamydia – in koala populations, in the environment and the disease pathogen itself – to understand how they interact to cause disease.
The Liverpool Plains, Southern Highlands and Port Stephens koala populations present an ideal scenario to investigate the drivers and impact of chlamydiosis: existing data indicates that chlamydial infection and disease outcomes differ across various patches of these populations. This detailed longitudinal study will characterise the susceptibility of koalas to chlamydia infection across diverse geographical areas, helping to identify risk factors of koala chlamydial disease, assess associated impacts and predict resilience and recovery.
Vaccination against chlamydiosis: An effective disease management tool in wild populations?
University of Sydney
Until 2008, north-west New South Wales had the only growing population of koalas in the state and had no recorded chlamydiosis-related koala deaths. Since then, we have documented at least 2 introductions of chlamydiosis into this population of koalas and about 65% of the koalas in this region are affected by the disease. This occurred at the same time as a 25% decline in the koala population of that region, a result of compounding pressures of habitat loss and fragmentation and extreme weather events.
This project will roll out the first field-based trial of a vaccine against chlamydiosis, seeking evidence of efficacy over a prolonged period (3 years). The results of this trial will provide evidence to assess whether a chlamydiosis vaccination may be a viable part of wild koala population management strategies.
Testing a combination vaccine to protect koalas against the dual threats of chlamydia and koala retrovirus
University of the Sunshine Coast
Chlamydia is the most common disease seen in koalas and can lead to blindness, infertility and death. Koalas in New South Wales and Queensland are also infected with a virus known as koala retrovirus. Vaccines for chlamydia and koala retrovirus have been tested separately and shown to be safe for koalas but, to be most effective, a successful vaccine needs to target both chlamydia and koala retrovirus at the same time.
This project will test a treatment combining vaccines against chlamydia and koala retrovirus to see whether it effectively protects koalas from the harmful effects of both diseases. The combination vaccine will be tested in wild koala populations to see if it works better than a chlamydia-only vaccine. At the end of this project, if a successful combination vaccine were proven, it could progress to the production stage for use in disease management programs.
New and improved chlamydial treatment to reduce disease burden
University of Technology Sydney
Chlamydia in koalas leads to infertility but treating koalas with antibiotics for chlamydial disease is difficult. Supply of the right antibiotics can be problematic, and more information is needed to better understand the side-effects of standard treatments and the effectiveness of alternative antibiotics.
This project has 2 complementary research streams to identify new antibiotics to treat chlamydia in koalas. The first stream will optimise a new chlamydia-specific antibiotic that is non-toxic and effective against koala chlamydia. The secondary stream will screen a library of existing approved drugs. The efficacy of promising antibiotics will be tested, and the most effective antibiotics identified, ready to progress to clinical trials in affected koalas.
Understanding and mapping how thermal and dietary constraints combine to restrict koala habitat and determine refugia
Western Sydney University
Droughts and heatwaves are recognised as important agents of mortality for koalas and are expected to increase in frequency and severity under climate change. Maintaining an adequate intake of water is essential for koalas to thermoregulate under hot conditions, and koalas famously rely on water in leaves for most of their water intake. We need to better understand how koalas maintain their water intake during extreme conditions, and how their habitat changes under those conditions, so we can better protect populations under future climate change conditions.
First, a field study will monitor wild koalas to better understand how koalas conserve and expend energy, consume food and water and regulate their body temperature under a range of weather conditions to determine their physiological thresholds and nutritional requirements. Our approach recognises that hot temperatures and plant toxins can interact to limit koalas' feeding. Next, remote sensing will be used to measure and map how leaf moisture varies across New South Wales and across different climates and weather conditions. Then, current and potential koala habitats will be mapped across New South Wales under simulated weather scenarios under climate change, reflecting how heat affects koalas, their ability to maintain hydration and their habitats.