Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Australian Citizens Are Helping To Save Koalas

July 29, 2014

Australian citizens are pitching in to help save the koala, one of our most iconic and vulnerable species, environmental scientists say.

By linking the public’s sightings of koalas with changes in the landscape and climate, scientists from the National Environmental Research Program’s Environmental Decisions Hub (NERP EDH) have quantified how many threats affect koala populations in New South Wales (NSW) and have identified the impact of these threats across the state.

“Using data collected through citizen science projects, we found that koalas in the west of NSW are substantially more at risk of decline compared with those in the east of the state,” says Dr Jonathan Rhodes of NERP EDH and The University of Queensland. “The major threats to koalas are the loss of forest combined with drought and higher temperatures. In the east, the major threats are associated with forest loss and urban development.

“In Eden, NSW, for example, climate, fire and human population growth have combined to cause the local koala population to decline significantly over the past 35 years.”

Currently, koalas are distributed widely across eastern Australia, Dr Dan Lunney of the Office of Environment and Heritage NSW explains. While this reduces the chance of the species as a whole going extinct, it also means that the animals are spread across a wide range of different lands, climate zones and vegetation types.

“So they’re exposed to different threats in different places, and this makes it incredibly difficult to plan for their recovery because we can’t apply a ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy. The challenge, then, is to identify the key threats that are driving the decline in a particular area,” Dr Lunney says.

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