In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.
|EPBC Act Listing Status||Listed as Vulnerable|
|Listing and Conservation Advices||
NON-CURRENT Commonwealth Listing Advice on Phascolarctos cinereus (Koala) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2006jh) [Listing Advice].
NON-CURRENT Commonwealth Listing Advice on Phascolarctos cinereus (Koala) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2010bc) [Listing Advice].
Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Phascolarctos cinereus (combined population in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2012o) [Conservation Advice].
Listing advice for Phascolarctos cinereus (Koala) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2012p) [Listing Advice].
|Recovery Plan Decision||
Recovery Plan required, a recovery plan for the Koala (combined populations of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory) will be developed and is to commence following the expiration of the National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy in 2014. This recovery plan will be for those populations covered by the national threatened species listing. There are a number of conservation instruments, guidelines and plans in place for the Koala across its entire range, in individual states, and for some regional populations (27/04/2012).
|Adopted/Made Recovery Plans|
|Policy Statements and Guidelines||
Draft EPBC Act Referral Guidelines for the Koala (Department of the Environment, 2013) [Admin Guideline].
Update on information relating to status of the koala since listing advice provided to Minister on 30 September 2010 and incorporating outcomes of the Senate inquiry (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2011ad) [Information Sheet].
Koala distribution map - colour (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012c) [Information Sheet].
Koala distribution map - b/w (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012d) [Information Sheet].
National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy 2009-2014 (Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council (NRMMC), 2009) [Information Sheet].
Threatened Species Scientific Committee letter to the Minister that accompanied the 2010 Listing Advice (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2010bd) [Information Sheet].
Assessment of the sensitivity of estimates of the trend in the national koala population to uncertainty in estimates of the populations at state level (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2011bi) [Information Sheet].
Threatened Species Scientific Committee letter to the Minister that accompanied the 2011 Listing Advice (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2011bk) [Information Sheet].
Response to the Minister's request for further advice on Koala population boundaries (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2012q) [Information Sheet].
Rationale for recommendation by the TSSC to determine that the combined koala population in Queensland, NSW and the ACT be considered a species for the purposes of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2012r) [Information Sheet].
Threatened Species Scientific Committee letter to the Minister that accompanied the 2012 Listing Advice (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2012s) [Information Sheet].
Federal Register of
Amendment to the list of threatened species under section 178 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (133) (27/04/2012) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2012h) [Legislative Instrument].
Determination that a distinct population of biological entities is a species for the purposes of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (132) (combined populations of Qld, NSW, ACT) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2012m) [Legislative Instrument].
Documents and Websites
Documents and Websites
|State Listing Status||
|Scientific name||Phascolarctos cinereus (combined populations of Qld, NSW and the ACT) |
This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.
The current conservation status of the Koala, Phascolarctos cinereus, under Australian and State Government legislation, and international conventions, is as follows:
National: Listed as Vulnerable under the name Phascolarctos cinereus (combined populations of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory) under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Queensland: Listed as Vulnerable under Phascolarctos cinereus (south-east Queensland bioregion) under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. Listed as Least Concern for areas other than the south-east Queensland bioregion.
New South Wales (NSW): Listed as Vulnerable under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (TSC Act). The 'Hawks Nest and Tea Gardens area of Great Lakes local government area' population and the 'Pittwater area of Warringah local government area' population are each listed as an Endangered Population under the TSC Act.
Australian Capital Territory (ACT): Not listed under the Nature Conservation Act 1980.
Listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act 1973 (United States of America).
Important note: The use of the term 'Koala' in this SPRAT profile relates only the entity of Phascolarctos cinereus in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, which is listed as a Vulnerable species under the EPBC Act. The term 'listed species' may also be used synonymously. The term 'biological species' will be used in relation to the entire extent of Phascolarctos cinereus.
Scientific name: Phascolarctos cinereus
Common name: Koala
The biological species is conventionally accepted as Phascolarctos cinereus (Goldfuss 1817).
Evidence for subspecies
Three subspecies of Koala have been described: Phascolarctos cinereus adustus in Queensland (Thomas 1923), P. c. cinereus in NSW (Goldfuss 1817 cited in Iredale & Troughton 1934) and P. c. victor in Victoria (Troughton 1935). These were dismissed (treated as synonyms) in the most recent taxonomic revision (McKay 1988) and by genetic and morphological analyses (Houlden et al. 1999; Takami et al. 1998), but are currently recognised by the Australian Biological Resources Study (AFD 2010).
The subspecies' boundaries are along state lines, but there are few barriers to dispersal of the Koala across these boundaries, and they are unlikely to be isolated. Koalas in the south of the species' range can be distinguished from Koalas in the north by physical features, such as fur colour and size. However, the variation is considered to be predominantly clinal, changing gradually along the distribution of the Koala in response to different environmental conditions (Bergmann's rule), although some regional variation is apparent (Melzer 1995). The latitudinal clines in colour and size may reflect important differences of adaptation to factors such as temperature, and there may also be east-west differences in adaptation.
At the national scale, Houlden and colleagues (1999) examined variation in mitochondrial DNA from over 200 individuals from 16 separate Koala groups. The study concluded that there was a lack of support for the separation of the subspecies and tentative support for a single evolutionarily significant unit for the species. The separate Koala groups were strongly differentiated, suggesting limited gene flow and a pattern of isolation by distance. Gene flow has been further restricted by habitat fragmentation. Houlden and colleagues (1999) suggested that the appropriate management unit for the species is the local population (sub-population fragments).
However, for the purposes of the EPBC Act, no subspecies of the koala are recognised.
The Koala is a (mainly) arboreal, medium-sized marsupial with a stocky body, large rounded ears, sharp claws and predominantly grey-coloured fur. The species displays sexual dimorphism (males generally are larger than females). There is also a general gradient in body weight from north to south across the biolog range, with larger individuals occurring in the south and smaller individuals occurring in the north (the average weight of males is 6.5 kg in Queensland, compared with 12 kg in Victoria). In the north of the biological species' range, the Koala tends to have shorter, silver-grey fur, whereas in the south it has longer, thicker, brown-grey fur (Martin & Handasyde 1999).
The Koala is endemic to Australia. The biological species range extends from north-eastern Queensland to the south-east corner of SA (ANZECC 1998). As a consequence of translocations, a number of sub-populations of the biological species occur outside the biological species' historic range. These sub-populations occur in south-eastern SA (i.e. Kangaroo Island) and some parts of Victoria (NRMMC 2009). The biological species is currently widespread in coastal and inland areas, with a range that extends over 22° of latitude and 18° of longitude, or about one million square kilometres (Martin & Handasyde 1999). The occurrence of animals throughout this distribution is not continuous and is defined by environmental variables (Martin & Handasyde 1999; NSW DECC 2008).
The listed species range extends from north-eastern Queensland to the Victorian border.
The distribution of the koala and its habitat are influenced by altitude (generally limited to <800 m above sea level), temperature and, at the western and northern ends of the range, leaf moisture (Munks et al. 1996). In the semi-arid regions in the western and northern parts of the species' range, koala distribution and abundance is strongly influenced by the availability of water in soils from which food trees draw water. Given that average, annual rainfall is considerably higher towards the coast, the density of the koala population is generally greater there than inland.
In Queensland, the koala’s distribution extends inland from the east coast: from the Wet Tropics interim biogeographic regionalisation of Australia (IBRA) bioregion, into the Einasleigh Uplands bioregion in the north of the state; from the Central Mackay Coast bioregion, through the Brigalow Belt North bioregion to the Desert Uplands and Mitchell Grass Downs bioregions, and from the Southeast Queensland bioregion, through the Brigalow Belt to the Mulga Lands and Channel Country bioregions in the southwest of the state (Patterson 1996; TSSC 2012p). Several of these bioregions extend into northern NSW.
Koalas have been introduced to several islands off the Queensland coast, including Brampton, St Bees and Magnetic Islands (Melzer et al. 2000), which are considered to be part of the listed species. Koalas occurring on North Stradbroke, Newry and Rabbit Islands may be introduced, but recent anecdotal evidence suggests that they may be natural (Ellis 2010 pers. comm. cited in TSSC 2012p; Lee 2010; Melzer et al. 2000).
The highest density of the Koala population occurs in South-east Queensland. Lower densities occur through central and eastern areas (Queensland EPA 2006).
New South Wales
In NSW, Koalas occur along the coast, extending west to the Darling Riverine Plains and Mulga Lands bioregions in the north of the state; to the Cobar Peneplain bioregion in the centre of the state; and to the Riverina and eastern most parts of the Murray-Darling Depression bioregions in the south.
The highest densities of the Koala in NSW occur on the North Coast and Central Coast. There are also some dense occurrences of the Koala in the Pilliga region and in the Gunnedah and Walgett local government areas, on the north-western slopes and plains. There are point location records of the Koala in the Northern Tablelands and the species is known to occur at a number of sites on the Central and Southern Tablelands (NSW DECC 2008). On the South Coast, koalas occur in low density and isolated sub-population fragments (Allen et al. 2009; Jurskis & Potter 1997; NSW DECC 2008).
Australian Capital Territory
In the ACT, Koalas are thought to be present through the Brindabella Ranges (around Bushfold) and in the Orroral Valley and Tidbinbilla reserve, Namadgi National Park (Fletcher 2009 pers. comm. cited in TSSC 2012p).
A decline in the total population of the listed Koala has been Demonstrated across its range over the 1990–2010 period (TSSC 2011bi). The following table is a summary of the TSSC assessment of national Koala populations (TSSC 2012p):
|New South Wales||1990||31 400|
|Combined Queensland and New South Wales total||1990||326 400|
Fragmented sub-populations of the Koala occur throughout Queensland (Queensland EPA 2006). Densities of these sub-populations range from moderately high in south-east Queensland and some parts of central Queensland (1–3 Koalas/ha) to low in other parts of central Queensland (≥0.01 Koalas/ha) (Melzer et al. 2000). Note that the headings used to delineate regions below are not necessarily accepted delineations of sub-populations.
There are no published estimates of Koala population size or density in the far northern part of the Koala's range in the Wet Tropics and Einasleigh Uplands bioregions. There are some anecdotal reports of Koala sightings but these are uncommon and suggestive of very low densities. The northern limit of the distribution of the Koala in Queensland has contracted to the south, from approximately Cooktown to inland of Cairns, since the late 1960s (Gordon et al. 2006; Phillips 1990).
There are no published estimates of the number of Koalas in the north-western parts of the Koalas range, but some formal survey work has been undertaken to assess densities of the population in the region. The Koala population is very sparse in the Desert Uplands bioregion (Munks et al. 1996). Munks and colleagues (1996) found that Koalas were principally associated with creek lines and leaf moisture was probably a critical determinant of their occurrence.
Koalas were surveyed at sites in Moorinya National Park, in the Mitchell Grass Downs bioregion, in August 2000 and February 2003m, and at Hughenden, north-west of Moorinya, over four consecutive years ffrom 2006 to 2009 . During these intensive and extensive searches, some evidence of Koala presence was found and the occasional koala was sighted over many kilometres of creek lines (National Koala Abundance Workshop 2009). The sites surveyed in Moorinya National Park in 2000 and 2003 were close to the western edge of the species' known distribution species' known distribution determined through an extensive 1986–87 national survey (Phillips 1990). While distributional surveys conducted in the region in 1967 and 1977 recorded Koalas well to the west of the sites surveyed in Moorinya National Park. This indicated an eastward contraction of the Koala's distribution (Gordon et al. 2006).
Koalas have been studied at Tambo (Mitchell Grass Downs bioregion), and near Springsure and Blair Athol (both in Brigalow Belt North bioregion). Koalas in this region typically occur in low densities and have large home ranges (Ellis et al. 2002). The most recent estimates were provided to the National Koala Abundance Workshop (2009) for Tambo and Springsure. In extensive searches of approximately 10 km of creek lines near Tambo, numbers of Koalas sighted were very low in both 2008 and 2009 respectively (TSSC 2012p). At four sites at Springsure, the densities of Koala numbers declined from an estimated average of 0.155 to 0.01 Koalas/ha (a decline of >90%) between in 1992 and 2009 (TSSC 2012p).
Significant research work has been undertaken in the Mulga Lands bioregion (Sullivan et al. 2002). In this bioregion, the Koala's distribution has contracted under drought conditions to the riparian areas, with very few Koalas currently using the habitat on residual landforms as observed by Sullivan and colleagues (2004) during their 2002-2004 study. In 1995, the number of Koalas in the Mulga Lands was estimated at 59 500 (range 44 500–75 600, 95% confidence limits) (Sullivan et al. 2002). Sullivan and colleagues (2004) then estimated that a decline in Koala numbers of approximately 10% between 1995 and 2004 was due to land clearing in the preceding 30 years. Using the same methodology as was applied by Sullivan and colleagues in their 2002-2004 study, the number of Koalas in the bioregion was estimated in 2009 to be 11 600 (range 9800–13 400 95% confidence limits), a decline of approximately 80% since 1997 (Seabrook et al. 2011).
The results of the above studies in the Mulga Lands bioregion represent the most substantial and robust regional-scale Koala population monitoring information available to date for estimating the decline of the Koala population in Queensland in the period, 1990-2010. However, it is difficult to contextualise the observed decline relative to the national Koala population change, as the Koalas occurring in the Mulga Lands are at the arid limit of the Koala’s distribution (TSSC 2012p).
Population estimates for the South East Queensland bioregion have been focussed particularly on the Koala Coast and Pine Rivers Shire (the latter now part of the Moreton Bay local government area). The Koala Coast had an estimated 6246 Koalas in 1996–1999. That population had declined approximately 65% to 2279 Koalas in 2008 (Queensland DERM 2009a). Pine Rivers Shire supported approximately 4600 Koalas in 2001 (Dique et al. 2003a) and this declined by about 40% to less than 2700 Koalas in 2008.
On the Gold Coast, the Koala population was estimated at 4724 Koalas in 2007. This estimate included a population of 510 Koalas inhabiting the Coomera-Pimpama Koala Habitat Area. Koala numbers in all South-east Queensland local government areas (Sunshine Coast Regional, Moreton Bay Regional, Brisbane City, Redland City, Logan City, Ipswich City and Gold Coast City Councils) appear to be following a similar downward trend to the Koala Coast and Pine Rivers populations. This is evidenced by a rapid increase in the numbers of sick, injured and dead Koalas (Phillips et al. 2007).
The occurrence of Koalas distributed north of the Sunshine Coast in this bioregion is not well known. Most information about the distribution of Koalas in a given area has come about through surveys undertaken as part of development applications with Sunshine Coast Regional Council. The species is generally considered to be at low density (<0.2 Koalas/ha) in this part of the bioregion and (Queensland EPA 2006; White et al. 2005).
An overall estimation of the number Koalas in Queensland has been given as 100 000 to 300 000, but gives little indication of how it was derived (Qld EPA 2006). Specific population figures are given only for the Mulga Lands, Koala Coast and Pine Rivers (as described above) where the estimates sum to 73 500 and declines average close to 75% since 1990. The remainder of the estimated figures includes the Koalas in the low density populations (0.005–0.2 Koalas/ha) over the remainder of their extensive distribution. A plausible range of population sizes for Queensland in 1990 was 250 000 to 350 000 Koalas, with a best estimate of 295 000 (using the IUCN Standards and Petitions Subcommittee (2011) method) (TSSC 2012p).
A summary of Queensland’s Koala population is below (TSSC 2012p):
|Region||Date||Best Estimate||Range||Comments||Confidence in population estimate|
|Wet Tropics, Central Mackay Coast||1990||10 000||n/a||Limited data, small coastal bioregions||Low|
|2010||10 000||n/a||As above, less affected by the drought than inland bioregions||Low|
|Desert Uplands, Mitchell Grass Downs, Einasleigh Uplands||1990||85 000||67 000–107 000||Approximate area by density: Mitchell Grass Downs 0.001 Koalas/ha, Desert Uplands and Einasleigh Uplands 0.005 Koalas/ha||Low|
|2010||55 000||51 000–59 500||Decline 30–40%, range based on decline from 1990 best estimate||Low|
|Brigalow Belt||1990||115 000||90 000–145 000||Approximate area by density: 0.005 Koalas/ha||Low|
|2010||75 000||69 000–80 500||Decline 30–40%, range based on decline from 1990 best estimate||Low|
|Mulga Lands||1990||60 000||44 500–75 600||Based on the results of surveys undertaken by Sullivan et al. (2002) and Seabrook et al. (2011)||High|
|2010||11 600||9 800– 13 400||High|
|South East Queensland||1990||25 000||n/a||Based on an aggregation of formal estimates||High|
|2010||15 000||n/a||As above||High|
|Queensland total||1990||295 000||250 000–350 000|
|2010||167 000||157 000–177 000|
New South Wales
Population densities range from high in parts of the NSW North Coast, for example 3 Koalas/ha in an artificially planted reserve at Tucki Tucki (Gall 1980), to very low (0.006 Koalas/ha (Jurskis & Potter 1997) near Eden on the South Coast.
North-eastern NSW is often held to be the stronghold of Koalas in the state. While the density of the Koala population in this part of the species' range appears to be highest in north-eastern NSW, there are few contemporary estimates of the size of Koala sub-population fragments throughout the state and it is not possible to give an overall estimate for the state. However, there are data to assess the distribution of Koalas which give a coarse indication of population density (Lunney et al. 2009). Lunney and colleagues (2009) reported the results of a community survey to estimate changes in distribution and relative abundance between 1986 and 2006, and noted that most of the areas in NSW that indicated a declines in Koala numbers were in the north-east. Population data indicate that:
- the Iluka population is considered to have gone extinct (Lunney et al. 2002);
- the Port Stephens local government area had a population of 350–800 Koalas in 1998 (Lunney et al. 2007);
- the Lake Innes Nature Reserve had a population of approximately 600 Koalas in 1999 (NSW NPWS 1999jh) while adjoining freehold lands comprising the remainder of the Innes Peninsula and associated Thrumster planning area collectively supported approximately 300 Koalas (Forsman & Phillips 2005; Phillips 2008);
- in the Lismore area, Koalas may be extending their range into eucalypt forests and woodlands that have become established since clearing of the Big Scrub rainforest (Lee 2010).
The number of Koalas in north-east NSW is uncertain and population surveys are required to establish current population size. Nevertheless, they likely numbered in the low thousands in 2010, but the nature and extent of exposure to threats suggests that declines have occurred, and will continue, in many areas (TSSC 2012p).
In the Sydney Basin bioregion, Koalas occur around the Central Coast, Blue Mountains and the fringes of the Cumberland Plain. Records from reserves are uncommon, though they are found in Dharug, Wollemi and Tomaree National Parks. There are scattered records through the South Eastern Highlands bioregion. South-west of Sydney, the number of Koalas occurring in Campbelltown and the surrounding areas has been increasing slowly since the 1980s and is considered to have approximately 300 animals. Given that large areas in the Sydney region are reserved as national parks, forests and woodland in these areas may support several hundred individuals at low densities (Close 2010 pers. comm. cited in TSSC 2012p). A number of other small groups of Koalas are identified in the Recovery plan for the Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) as occurring in this bioregion, but these are likely to be small and some (e.g. Pittwater) may now have gone extinct (NSW DECC 2008).
In NSW, west of the Great Dividing Range, Koalas occur in the Pilliga State Forest and in the Gunnedah area with smaller groups elsewhere (NSW DECC 2008). The number of Koalas in the Pilliga was estimated to be 15 000 (Kavanagh & Barrott 2001), however, the estimate has been questioned due to error (NSW DECC 2008), and may be a significant overestimate. The estimate is also now 10 years old and the Pilliga has been subject to severe drought. In areas of the Pilliga, where Koalas were once abundant in the 1990s, they are now rare or absent and there has been little sign of recovery (Parnaby 2010 pers. comm. cited in TSSC 2012p).
Despite formal studies of the Koala population (Curran 1997; Smith 1992), there are no quantitative estimates of population size for Gunnedah. State-wide surveys of Koala distribution indicate that the number of Koalas in the Gunnedah area is regionally significant (Crowther et al. 2009) and has expanded against the state trend due to revegetation aimed at addressing soil salinity problems . However, the proximity of plantings adjacent to roads and railway tracks means that there is a high risk of Koala mortality due to vehicle strike (Lunney et al. 2009). Crowther and colleagues (2010) attributed high Koala mortality observed in a study conducted in the Gunnedah area in 2009 to a heatwave.
A synthesis of recent Koala surveys was prepared by Allen (2009) combining the results of surveys, which were conducted using a variety of means. The densities of the Koala population in this part of the species' range were uniformly low to very low. The total number of Koalas in the region from the Goulburn area south to the NSW border was estimated to be 800. Allen (2009) notes some indications of an increase in the population in the coastal forests north-east of Bega, but it must be noted that the number of Koalas in this area is extremely small. Recent intensive surveys show that a population at Tantawangalo/Yurammie is now very low and possibly extinct (TSSC 2012p).
New South Wales (overall)
The NSW population was approximately 31 400 in 1990 and 21 000 in 2010 (an approximate 33% decline) (TSSC 2012p). A summary of NSW Koala population is below (TSSC 2012p):
|Region||Date||Best estimate||Comments||Confidence in population estimate|
|North East||1990||10 500||Higher density than in most other parts of the state, extensive areas of National Park and State Forest||Moderate|
|2010||7500||Declines measured or inferred via modelling studies for several urban areas, particularly along the coastal region. Data lacking for significant forested areas||Moderate|
|Central coast NSW and Sydney bioregion||1990||1500||Estimates for Campbelltown area, extrapolated based on expert advice of large area with low density populations||Moderate|
|2010||1900||Inferred increase based on expert advice on Campbelltown population||Moderate|
|Northwest (other than Pilliga)||1990||2000||Inferred based on community survey data suggesting widespread occurrence across region but with substantial areas of cleared land||Low|
|2010||3000||Increase inferred based on unquantified increase in Koala population in Gunnedah region due to revegetation||Low|
|Pilliga Forest||1990||15 000||Published estimate||High|
|2010||7500||Decline inferred based on drought, wildfire, anecdotal reports of substantial decline||Low|
|South East||1990||2400||Published estimate for Eden-Bermagui extrapolated to broader region||Moderate|
|2010||1100||Published estimate for region||High|
|New South Wales total||1990||31 400|
Australian Capital Territory
The number of Koalas in the ACT is likely to be very small. There have been at least six introductions to the territory between 1939 and 2009, mostly from Victoria, but also SA. However, no large or dense populations have ever become established. Although Koalas may occur in very low numbers through the Brindabella Range and Namadgi National Park, and it is possible that some of these may be survivors of extant groups in the region, the only known group of Koalas in the territory is a very small number held within a 17 ha enclosure at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, which were translocated from SA. There have been no reports of wild Koalas following extensive bushfires in 2003 (Fletcher 2009 pers. comm. cited in TSSC 2012p; NRMMC 2009).
There is a data deficiency in regards to the delineation of sub-populations throughout the listed koala's range. Therefore, it is currently difficult to specify important populations and such a proposition must be assessed on a case by case basis, using the information available for a particular location. The extent of a sub-population is likely to be defined by significant natural or anthropogenic barriers. The National Recovery Plan for the Koala is likely to build on the current knowledge regarding sub-populations and their relative importance when it developed (publication of this document is expected to be late 2014).
Koalas naturally inhabit a range of temperate, sub-tropical and tropical forest, woodland and semi-arid communities dominated by Eucalyptus species (Martin & Handasyde 1999).
Koala habitat can be broadly defined as any forest or woodland containing species that are known koala food trees, or shrubland with emergent food trees. The distribution of this habitat is largely influenced by land elevation , annual temperature and rainfall patterns, soil types and the resultant soil moisture availability and fertility. Preferred food and shelter trees are naturally abundant on fertile clay soils.
Along the Great Dividing Range and the coastal belt throughout the species' range, Koalas inhabit moist forests and woodlands mostly dominated by Eucalyptus species. In coastal lowlands in Queensland and NSW, Koalas are also found in vegetation communities dominated by Melaleuca or Casuarina species (TSSC 2012p).
On the western slopes, tablelands and plains in Queensland and NSW Koalas are found in sub-humid Eucalyptus-dominated forests and woodlands in riparian and non-riparian environments, and some Acacia-dominated forests and woodlands in non-riparian environments (Melzer et al. 2000).
In the dry, subtropical to semi-arid environments in the western parts of the species’ range, Koalas inhabit Eucalyptus-dominated forests and woodlands, particularly in the vicinity of riparian environments, and Acacia-dominated forests, woodlands and shrublands (Melzer et al. 2000; NSW DECC 2008; Sullivan et al. 2003a).
Koalas are also known to occur in modified or regenerating native vegetation communities, as well as urban and rural landscapes where food trees or shelter trees may be highly scattered.
Importance of shelter trees
There is a growing body of evidence that identifies the importance of shelter (non-food) trees to koalas. Crowther and colleagues (2013) expand on this and suggest that shelter trees are equally important as food trees and should be weighted as such when assessing habitat suitability. Shelter trees play an essential role in thermoregulation and are likely to be selected based on height, canopy cover and elevation (i.e. trees occuring in gullies are preferable) (Crowther et al. 2013). The difficulty in regards to shelter trees is that, unlike food trees, there is no identified sub-set of forest and woodland trees known to be shelter trees. The use of a particular tree species, or individual trees within a species is highly contextual and variable (Crowther et al. 2013).
Female Koalas can potentially produce one offspring each year. With births occurring between October and May, averages tend to be lower, ranging from 0.3–0.8/year (McLean 2003). The newly-born Koala lives in its mother's pouch for 6–8 months and, after leaving the pouch, remains dependent on the mother, riding on her back. Young Koalas are independent from about 12 months of age. The generation length of Koalas has been estimated at 6 years (Phillips 2009 pers. comm. cited in TSSC 2012p). Longevity in the wild is more than 15 years for females and more than 12 years for males (Martin & Handasyde 1999). In
Mortality rates per year were measured at Springsure and Oakey, Queensland, and Port Stephens on the NSW Central Coast are presented in the table below (Lunney et al. 2004; Penn et al. 2000):
* Dog attack is known to be a significant cause of koala mortality in Port Stephens (Lunney et al. 2004).
The Koala is a leaf-eating specialist that feeds primarily during dawn, dusk or night (Crowther et al. 2013). Its diet is restricted mainly to foliage of Eucalyptus spp; however, it may also consume foliage of related genera, including Corymbia spp., Angophora spp. and Lophostemon spp. The Koala may, at times, supplement its diet with other species, including Leptospermum spp. and Melaleuca spp. (Martin & Handasyde 1999; Moore & Foley 2000). While Koalas have been observed sitting in or eating up to 120 species of eucalypt (Phillips 1990), the diet of individual Koalas is usually limited to obtaining most of their nutrition from one or a few species present at a site (Moore & Foley 2000). Species-level preferences may also vary between regions or seasons (Moore & Foley 2000). Consequently, assessment of habitat quality for Koalas is usually based on the identification of local preferences for species and quantification of the availability of those species (Phillips & Callaghan 2000; Phillips et al. 2000).
Koalas show strong preferences between individual trees within species (Hindell et al. 1985; Martin 1985a). Experiments show that the chemical anti-feedants may limit or prevent Koalas feeding on foliage of individual trees even when the species is considered preferred (Lawler et al. 1998; Moore et al. 2005). This variability creates a nutritional patchiness such that species-based assessments of habitat likely result in overestimates of the availability of high quality habitat and food trees (Moore & Foley 2005; Moore et al. 2005).
Leaf chemistry, and thus feeding choices, are influenced by elevation and temperature (Moore et al. 2004), water content in semi-arid areas (Munks et al. 1996) and soil nutrients (Moore & Foley 2000). Soil nutrients, and their influence on leaf nutrients, may be particularly important. Koalas are able to maintain positive nitrogen balance at a foliage nitrogen concentration of slightly above 1% (Cork 1986).
Where groups of Koalas reach high densities, they may affect the composition of the Eucalyptus-dominated vegetation community, through preferential herbivory. This is apparent in some areas of Victoria and SA where Koalas have been introduced and become overabundant, causing the deaths of preferred food trees (Menkhorst 2004, 2008). Koalas may impose selective pressure on favoured Eucalyptus species, causing evolutionary divergences among related sympatric species (Moore et. al. 2005).
The Koala is not territorial and the home ranges of individuals extensively overlap (Ellis et al. 2009). Individuals tend to use the same set of trees, but generally not at the same time. They spend a lot of time alone and devote limited time to social interactions (Martin & Handasyde 1999). Home ranges are variable depending on the location, with those in "poorer" habitats being larger than in higher quality habitats. On average, male Koalas usually have larger home ranges than females. For example, at Blair Athol in central Queensland, male home ranges were estimated at 135 ha and female home ranges were estimated at 101 ha (Ellis et al. 2002). At Bonville, on the NSW North Coast, male home ranges were estimated at 20 ha and female home ranges approximately 10 ha (Lassau et al. 2008).
Koalas tend to move little under most conditions, changing trees only a few times each day. There is little evidence for longer movements in most cases (Ellis et al. 2009), though dispersing individuals, mostly young males, may occasionally cover distances of several kilometres over land with little vegetation. In south-east Queensland, the average distance between natal and breeding home ranges was similar for males and females, at approximately 3.5 km (Dique et al. 2003b). Maximum dispersal distances were up to about 10 km for males and females (Dique et al. 2003b). Other studies have reported moves of just over 9 km in the outer suburbs of southern Sydney (Ward 2002), up to 11 km in Tucki Tucki Reserve in NSW (Gall 1980), and 16 km in rural south-east Queensland (White 1999).
General guidelines on the methods to detect Koalas through direct observation and faecal pellet surveys may be found in the Draft EPBC Act referral guidelines for the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.
The main threats to the Koala are ongoing habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, vehicle strike and predation by the domestic or feral Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris). Drought and incidences of extreme heat are also known to cause very significant mortality, and post-drought recovery may be substantially impaired by the range of other threatening factors (TSSC 2012o).
Habitat loss and fragmentation
Land clearing has been a significant cause of Koala mortality (Cogger et al. 2003). Local extinctions of Koala sub-populations have occurred in the past and have highlighted the need for recognition of Koala sub-population structure, and the need for facilitating movements of individuals between smaller areas (Lunney et al. 2002).
Logging has often resulted in the loss of Koala habitat, however the effect on local Koala numbers is a function of the management regime. For example, while clear-felling will completely remove habitat, Koalas may persist in selectively-logged forests (Kavanagh et al. 1995, 2007). Thus, the level of threat posed by logging is specific to the situation, and is determined by the management regime and adherence to its prescriptions. Koalas have also been recorded to have established home ranges within revegetated Eucalyptus-dominated woodlands and eucalypt monoculture plantations (TSSC 2012p).
Sherwin and colleagues (2000) noted that the loss of all sub-populations in any one part of the species' range would certainly diminish the genetic variation and could reduce the species' long-term adaptability to environmental change. They also noted that no studies had enough detail to allow mapping of the boundaries between management units (Sherwin et al. 2000). Additional studies have since been undertaken which have examined genetic variability at smaller scales. Koalas on the Koala Coast (the 375 km2 area of the south-eastern Brisbane Metropolitan Area) have been shown through the analysis of mitchondrial DNA to be distinct from Koalas in adjacent regions and should be considered a distinct management unit (Lee et al. 2009). This differentiation was interpreted to be recent: as a function of isolation due to barriers to dispersal imposed by major roads and urban development. The Koala Coast group contained few alleles (variations of genes) that were not present in adjacent mainland groups, however, the remainder of the mainland Koalas had many alleles that were not present in the the Koala Coast group (Lee et al. 2009). In the same study, distinct sub-population clusters were identified around Lismore in north-east NSW (Lee 2010), which are likely to be indicative of colonisation of the area by Koalas from the north.
Similar research has been conducted in other areas of NSW, but is still in the preliminary stages (Lee 2010 pers. comm. cited in TSSC 2012p). In western Sydney, three Koala groups with very limited gene flow between them have been identified (Lee et al. 2010). There are also some indications, based on the analysis of mitchondrial DNA, that Koalas on the south coast of NSW are distinct from those in the Sydney region (TSSC 2012p).
The impact of habitat fragmentation and isolation is also influenced by the relative hostility of the intervening habitat matrix. Urban environments, with higher densities of roads and dogs exacerbate the effect, while in rural settings, greater isolation has relatively less impact (Gordon et al. 2006; McAlpine et al. 2006a, 2006b; White 1999). For a given amount of habitat available, a landscape of more numerous, smaller patches is less likely to be occupied than one of fewer, larger patches (McAlpine et al. 2006a, 2006b).
Urban expansion continues to threaten Koalas, particularly in coastal regions. A study on the fragmented sub-population at Port Stephens suggests that even relatively large groups (up to 800 individuals) may be vulnerable to extinction and that this vulnerability will be increased with further fragmentation (Lunney et al. 2007). It is, therefore, expected that the number of Koalas on the NSW coast will continue to decline (Lunney et al. 2007, 2009).
Phillips and colleagues (2007) estimated that approved urban development in the Coomera-Pimpama Koala Habitat Area on the Gold Coast would see over a third of the resident Koala population lost. Vegetation clearing, including Koala habitat, is well underway. Anticipated further development will see additional losses, while an escalation of associated threats, for example cars and dogs, will invariably lead to a further decline in the number of Koalas in the area (Phillips et al. 2007). Phillips and colleagues (2007) determined that, in the absence of an assertive management response, the group of Koalas in the area would become unviable once incidental mortality arising from the associated threats exceeded 6% of total population size (Phillips et al. 2007).
The effects of habitat loss and fragmentation may be greater than is indicated simply by estimating the proportion of land cleared. Land clearing is focussed disproportionately on flatter, more fertile areas, which constitute high-quality habitat for Koalas, so that what remains is often the poorer quality habitat on steep terrain and/or poorer soils (McAlpine et al. 2006a, 2006b). Even if land clearing were to discontinue, there is likely to be an ongoing “extinction debt” (Tilman et al. 1994) to be paid, as extinction processes continue to operate on habitat patches that are now too isolated or small to support viable populations (Cogger et al. 2003; McAlpine et al. 2006a, 2007). Habitat fragmentation may also impede post-drought recovery of inland Koalas (TSSC 2012p).
Mortality due to dog attacks and vehicle strikes
Dog attacks and vehicle strikes are two threats to Koalas that are closely associated with urban expansion, with exposure to both threats increasing as land adjacent to Koala habitat is developed and occupied. However, while these threats are most intense in the urban and peri-urban environment, both may also be threats in rural areas (Crowther et al. 2010; Senate Environment and Communications References Committee 2011).
A prime example of how dog attacks and vehicle strikes cause significant declines of Koala numbers is the 64% decline of Koala numbers on the Koala Coast in south-east Queensland between 1999 and 2009 (Dique et al. 2004; QLD DERM 2009c). Between 1997 and May 2011 in south-east Queensland, at least 1144 Koalas were killed by dogs and 4055 were killed by cars (QLD DERM 2011c). An additional 5757 deaths were attributed to a combination of cars, dogs and/or disease. While it is not possible to ascribe each of these deaths to a particular area or group of Koalas, the substantial declines noted above for the Koala Coast and Pine Rivers Koala groups suggest that such mortality rates are unsustainable (QLD DERM 2011c).
Dique and colleagues (2003c) formally assessed the Koala mortality rate due to vehicle strikes on the Koala Coast. At a time when the Koala population was estimated at approximately 6250 (Dique et al. 2004), Koala mortality due to vehicle strike averaged 281 individuals per year. This equated to an annual mortality rate of approximately 5% due to vehicle strike (note that this is not necessarily the rate of population decline as it does not include other causes of mortality nor births or migration).This isolated sub-population fragment is considered to be approaching functional extinction (QLD DERM 2009c).
From 2001 to 2008, urban Koala numbers in the Pine Rivers District, north of the Koala Coast, declined by 45% and by 15% in bushland areas (GHD 2008) as a result of habitat loss and the associated dog attacks and vehicle strikes. This equated to an overall decline of 40% (Dique et al. 2003a). It is also likely that the drought between 2001 and 2007 has had an impact on populations in south-east Queensland (McDonnell 2010).
Until recently, the most well-known disease present in the Koala population is associated with particular strains of Chlamydia (NRMMC 2010). Many Koalas carry Chlamydia, but do not always show clinical symptoms (known as chlamydiosis). The symptoms include eye, urinary tract, respiratory tract and reproductive tract infections, and the latter can lead to infertility in female Koalas (NRMMC 2010). There is circumstantial evidence that chlamydiosis might increase in response to environmental stresses such as overcrowding and poor nutrition (Melzer et al. 2000), although the epidemiology of chlamydiosis is not well understood.
Reduced female fertility caused by Chlamydia infection may limit the reproductive potential of Koala populations (NSW DECC 2008). Chlamydiosis may contribute to local declines or extinctions in small, isolated Koala sub-population fragments, where recruitment rates between Koala groups are low and mortalities from other threats are high (NSW DECC 2008). However, through reducing female fertility, chlamydiosis may also prevent some Koala sub-populations from reaching very high densities and over-browsing their food trees (NSW DECC 2008). The SA and French Island (Victoria) populations are thought to be Chlamydia-free, but the disease is present throughout the remainder of the species’ range (Martin & Handasyde 1999). Recent research has shown that up to half of the Koalas in South-east Queensland have detectible reproductive disease likely to result in infertility (Hanger & Loader 2009). Hanger and Loader (2009) also caution that the ultrasound method used to detect the disease likely underestimates its prevalence.
Another recently discovered disease may have significant implications for Koala conservation. Koala Retrovirus (KoRV) was recently identified and is thought to be responsible for a range of conditions, including leukaemia (Tarlinton et al. 2005) and an immunodeficiency syndrome. Up to 100% of Koalas in Queensland and NSW have KoRV, but the proportions are lower in southern populations (Hanger & Loader 2009; Lee 2010; Tarlinton et al. 2006) which, until recently, showed none of the associated conditions (Bodley cited in Hanger & Loader 2009). There is some evidence that chlamydiosis may be exacerbated by KoRV (Tarlinton et al. 2005).
Koala Retrovirus has 'endogenised' in Koalas (Tarlinton et al. 2006) in Queensland and NSW. That is, it has infected germ line cells (spermatozoa or oocytes) and is transmitted genetically (by inheritance) from parents to offspring. Although this is a known mechanism of transmission, KoRV may also spread from Koala to Koala (horizontal spread) by close contact, and from infected mothers to their joeys via the milk, in a manner similar to the way that many other retroviruses spread (Hanger 1999). Whether KoRV can be transmitted by biting-insects has yet to be determined.
The effects of disease on Koala populations are of growing concern (Hanger & Loader 2009; Lunney et al. 2002; Queensland Government 2009), particularly in south-east Queensland and northern NSW. The Moggill Koala Hospital in south-east Queensland reported 3134 deaths attributable to disease in the years 1997-2009, with an additional 4538 due to a combination of cars, dogs and disease (QLD DERM 2011c). Due to a change in the method of recording the data where the main cause of mortality may, in the past, have been recorded as disease, cases of disease are increasingly being attributed to the “combination” category. Consequently, there is a strong negative correlation between the number of deaths attributed to disease and those attributed to “combination”. Thus, disease, as a primary cause of death, has apparently declined from over 30% to approximately 20% of overall mortality. However, this category alone is equivalent to the mortality due to vehicles (described above) and, when the combined category is added, they have been consistently around 60% of the causes of mortality of Koalas in south-east Queensland over 10 years. Indeed, 60% of mortality in the recent Koala Coast declines was attributed to disease (QLD DERM 2009c). The mortality data reported by Koala care groups support the observation that disease is a significant contributor to overall mortality: Hunter Koala Protection Society (mean 16%, range 6-47%); Friends of the Koala (41% 2009); Coffs Harbour City Council (30% 1999-2002, 15% 2003-2006); Currumbin Wildlife Hospital (46% 2000-2009); and Native Animal Trust Fund (20% 2009).
Climate change and drought
Climate change is a potential threat to the Koala, as it is expected to lead to increased frequency of high temperatures, changes to rainfall, increasing frequency and intensity of droughts, and increased fire risk over much of the Koala’s range (NRMMC 2010). Increased temperatures inland are expected to cause the Koala’s range to contract eastward (Adams-Hosking 2011; Adams-Hosking et al. 2011; Dunlop & Brown 2008; Queensland Office of Climate Change 2008; Steffen et al. 2009). This effect would be compounded by extended drought that may be expected under climate change scenarios (Queensland Office of Climate Change 2008). In Victoria, more hot days, increased risk of intense fire and more droughts are expected (Victorian DSE 2009r). Adams-Hosking (2009) estimated, using bioclimatic modelling, that the Koala’s range, and particularly its core (10–90%) range, would contract by 20–30% by 2030, leaving bioregions such the Mulga Lands, Mitchell Grass Downs and Einasleigh Uplands uninhabitable by Koalas (Adams-Hosking 2011).
In the west and north of their range, in Queensland, the distribution of Koalas is determined by heat in combination with water availability (Munks et al. 1996; Sullivan et al. 2003b). This is reflected in a tendency to find the highest densities of Koalas along creek lines. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the distribution of Koalas in south-western Queensland contracted eastwards in response to drought in the 1920s (Sullivan et al. 2003b). Sullivan and colleagues (2003b) also noted that Koalas were at higher densities in the north and central portions of their study area than in the south and west, consistent with rainfall patterns. In Mungalalla Creek, in the Mulga Lands bioregion, a Koala population crashed by at least 63% in the summer of 1979–80 in response to a continued drought (Gordon et al. 1988). Gordon and colleagues (1988) suggested that the regional persistence of Koalas may rely on the protection of ‘survival’ habitats around permanent water holes, from which Koalas may disperse into other habitats as conditions allow. The length of the drought may also have significant implications for the capacity of a population to recover.
Under climate change projections, there is expected to be a general eastwards shift in the edge of the distribution of Koalas (Adams-Hosking et al. 2011). Discussion at the 2009 National Koala Abundance Workshop noted that this situation is complicated by hydrological changes that do not necessarily follow this directional trend. It is expected that, if recovery occurs, it will include a phase shift in riparian communities, with Eucalyptus camaldulensis replacing E. tereticornis. Eucalyptus camaldulensis is more drought tolerant, but grows at lower densities so that, if there is a post-drought recovery, Koala populations may be expected to re-establish but stabilise at a lower density, as illustrated by the Mungalalla Creek population following a drought-induced population crash in the 1980s (Gordon et al. 1988).
The Mulga Lands bioregion in south-west Queensland was estimated in 1995 to have 59 500 Koalas, occupying riparian habitats but also extending out at lower densities into expansive surrounding habitats (Sullivan et al. 2003a, 2003b, 2004). A severe decline in the number of Koalas is indicated as a result of the 2002/2003 drought (Seabrook et al. 2011). Using the same methods as Sullivan and colleagues (2004), Seabrook andf colleague's (2010) estimate of 11 600 Koalas in 2009 indicated a substantial decline from Sullivan and colleague's 1995 estimate. As noted above, Adams-Hosking (2011) suggests the bioregion may not be able to support Koalas by 2030.
Drought may also be a significant factor in the decline in Koalas in coastal South-east Queensland (McDonnell 2010), where the substantial decline has largely been attributed to habitat fragmentation, vehicle strike and predation by dogs. McDonnell (2010) notes that many of the secure habitats, where Koalas had declined in the 2008 survey (Queensland DERM 2009b), are on drier sites. He also suggests that drought-related stress may have made Koalas more susceptible to disease. McDonnell (2010) also suggests that if drought was a significant factor in that decline, there should be observable signs of recovery via higher fecundity rates after the end of the drought. These data are not yet available. Nevertheless, other sources of mortality as described above remain severe, particularly with the population size much diminished (TSSC 2012p).
Not all nitrogen (an essential element contained in proteins) in eucalypt foliage is available to Koalas (Cork et al. 1983). When eucalypts are grown under elevated CO2, the ratios of carbon to nitrogen in the foliage increase such that concentrations of carbon-based anti-herbivore compounds (such as tannins) increase while nitrogen decreases (Lawler et al. 1997). It has recently been shown that tannins reduce the availability of nitrogen for digestion by eucalypt folivores, and that subtle differences in the balance between tannins and proteins may have profound effects on the ability of Koalas to utlilise their preferred food tree species in any given habitat. Therefore, Koala demography is likely to be negatively impacted by the changes in leaf chemistry induced by elevated CO2 in the atmosphere due to CO2 emissions (DeGabriel et al. 2009). It is not yet possible to assess forest nutritional quality over much of the Koala’s range, and thus to quantify the effect described above.
Additional potential threats to Koala habitat include Bell Miner Associated Dieback (BMAD) and myrtle rust. BMAD occurs patchily from south-east Queensland to Victoria but the area of greatest concern is north-east NSW. It is recognised as a Key Threatening Process (KTP) by the NSW government. BMAD affects wet and dry sclerophyll forest communities often dominated by eucalypts. The KTP determination cites the Koala as occurring in forests damaged by BMAD in NSW. Myrtle rust is a recently arrived fungal pest of plants of the family Myrtaceae, including eucalypts. It is now found extensively across eastern NSW and Queensland and has infected over 90 plant species. A small number of Koala food tree species have been infected but these infections have been minor to date such that myrtle rust does not appear to be a current threat to Koala habitat (TSSC 2012p).
Commonwealth Conservation Advice
The Conservation Advice for the Koala (TSSC 2012o) notes that the status of, and threats to, individual Koala populations vary over their range, and that a range of managment presciptions have been applied to varying circumstances (TSSC 2012o). The advice identifies threat abatement actions that would support the recovery of the Koala in Queensland, NSW and the ACT, including (TSSC 2012o):
- Develop and implement a development planning protocol to be used in areas of Koala sub-populations or sub-population fragments to prevent loss of Koala sub-populations, habitat critical to the survival of the species and vital habitat connectivity.
- Development plans should explicitly address ways to mitigate risk of vehicle strike when development occurs adjacent to, or within, Koala habitat.
- Develop and implement a management plan to control the adverse impacts of predation on Koalas by dogs in urban, peri-urban and rural environments.
- Monitor the progress of recovery, including the effectiveness of management actions and the need to adapt them, if necessary.
- Identify populations of high conservation priority.
- Develop and implement options of vegetation recovery and re-connection in regions containing fragmented Koala populations, including inland regions in which Koala populations were diminished by drought and coastal regions where development pressures have isolated Koala populations.
- Investigate formal conservation arrangements, management agreements and covenants on private land, and, for both Crown and private land, investigate and/or secure inclusion of habitat critical to the survival of the Koala in reserve tenure, if possible.
- Engage with private landholders and land managers responsible for the land on which populations occur and encourage these key stakeholders to contribute to the implementation of conservation management actions.
- Manage any other known, potential or emerging threats such a Bell Miner (Manorina melanophrys) Associated Dieback or Eucalyptus rust.
The Conservation Advice for the Koala (TSSC 2012o) also notes that despite substantial research investment, there has been a lack of coordination and prioritisation of research into the Koala (TSSC 2012o). The advice identities research priorities that would most contribute to the effective conservation management of the species, including (TSSC 2012o):
- Develop and implement an integrated program of population monitoring and abundance estimates across the Koala’s range, with particular focus on those regions for which the size and trends of the Koala population are currently least known. Targeting regions where there were previous surveys but where there are no recent estimates, will enable trends to be determined over a broader range of the species.
- Develop landscape-scale population models, to provide a framework for the assessment of relative threat risk and management intervention cost-effectiveness.
- Develop understanding of gene flow and landscape connectivity.
- Identify and delineate key sub-populations or sub-population fragments.
- Maintain or enhance research programs directed at the assessment of the incidence and consequences to populations of disease, and of mechanisms to reduce the impacts of disease.
- Maintain or enhance research programs directed at the assessment of the incidence and consequences to populations of mortality or injury due to dog attacks and vehicle strike, and of mechanisms to reduce the impacts of these threatening factors.
- Determine the ability of inland Koalas to persist after, and recover from, the effects of extreme drought and temperates, and evaluate the likely influence of climate change on these processes.
- Determine the social and economic benefits and costs of, and barriers to, implementing effective management interventions to conserve the species across its range, including governance arrangements.
National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy
The National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy (NRMMC 2009) aims to conserve Koalas by retaining viable Koala sub-population fragments throughout their natural range. As a national strategy, it provides a framework for incorporating state and local activities into broader national actions. Key objectives of the national strategy are that (NRMMC 2009):
- the Koala remains nationally abundant and widespread, and is not nationally threatened
- the threatened statuses of the Koala at state and regional levels are reduced
- Koalas in identified priority areas are stabilised or increasing
- increased consideration of Koala habitat is demonstrated in development planning
- productive and integrated partnerships that foster the conservation and welfare of Koalas
- greater areas of high-quality Koala habitat are conserved and effectively managed through legislation, covenants or agreements
- greater activity by land and resource managers to effectively protect and manage Koala populations is facilitated by state and local governments
- community capacity to drive Koala conservation and care is increased, and
- overabundant Koala groups are stabilised or reducing wherever they occur or arise
The effects of habitat fragmentation, dog attack, vehicle strike, disease transmission and other 'indirect' (non-habitat clearing) impacts may be reduced via effective mitigation measures. These mitigation measures (and their associated standards) are covered in the Draft Referral Guidelines for the Koala. In addition, the following section provides some further guidance on the suggested approaches and mitigation measures for road impacts (fragmentation and vehicle strike).
Impact-mitigation recommendations for major road projects
The following impact mitigation measures are recommended for major road projects where koalas may occur. These best practice approaches were developed through a review of relevant management documents (AMBS 2012; RTA 2011; McAlpine et al 2006a; DEHP 2012) as well as through discussions with species and industry experts who attended a Department of the Environment workshop to develop referral guidelines for the koala in September 2012.
Major road projects are highly likely to introduce, or exacerbate, impacts on the Koala (and other species). It is recommended that the preliminary planning process incorporates a focus on avoiding and mitigating the likely impacts on threatened species. Avoidance and mitigation measures should be incorporated into the design phase of a major road project. Monitoring the effectiveness (or otherwise) and reporting to key regulatory stakeholders is also an important part of the adaptive management and improvement process.
Research and planning phase
The recommended steps or considerations in planning and incorporating Koala impact-mitigation measures in a major road project are to:
1) Start building knowledge on the likely and potential impacts of the proposed road on the Koala by researching available peer-reviewed literature and government reports (i.e. AMBS 2011);
2) Gather information about local Koala habitat use and movements patterns (both spatial and temporal) in the areas where the road interfaces with koala habitat;
3) Identify how each of the elements of the project that are likely to impact on Koalas and their habitat, then assess the:
- amount of vegetation proposed to be removed and its value to the Koala
- preferred location of the road in relation to any existing or potential Koala habitat and landscape corridors
- local landform and how it may influence the types of impact-mitigation measures that can be used for best effect
- existing and predicted, future land use(s) in the areas either side of the proposed road corridor
- type of road to be constructed/upgraded (including the number and class of carriageways) and how it may add to or facilitate future cumulative impacts
- existing and the proposed width of the road corridor
- existing, adjoining roads and/or traffic exits and entrances
- preferred locations of new adjoining roads, access tracks, traffic exits and/or entrances
- predicted volume/increased volume of vehicular traffic (including the number of lanes)
- maximum vehicle speeds
- location and types of physical barriers to Koala movement (e.g. fencing, noise reduction walls)
- potential temporary impacts on Koala movement and safety during construction
- positioning and types of lighting/quantity of light during construction
- changes to existing overpasses or underpasses
- expected durations of physical works;
4) Consult major road construction engineers, environmental specialists and qualified ecologists, particularly those who are familiar with road impacts, impact-mitigation options and have local knowledge. It is recommended that you hold an expert/stakeholder workshop to discuss:
- all relevant information available about Koalas and other wildlife and their habitat and behavioural requirements in your study area
- potential impacts on Koalas and other threatened fauna or flora, and
- potential, best-practice impact-mitigation measures applicable to your proposal;
5) Develop a connectivity strategy which takes into account the dispersal requirements and movement behaviours of all fauna and flora species that are likely to be affected by the project, particularly the Koala;
6) Set specific, measureable impact-mitigation goals with respect to Koalas and other wildlife;
7) Develop alternative impact-mitigation options, if necessary;
8) Consult the road/infrastructure asset managers, major road environmental specialists, and ecologists with relevant fauna and flora expertise, to develop a construction management plan (CMP). Develop the CMP to:
- ensure that Koala mortality is prevented and interim Koala connectivity requirements are met during the construction stage of the project, and
- train construction personnel/contractors about the interim measures
9) Incorporate, through expert consultation, appropriate impact-mitigation measures (see impact-mitigation options below) in the design of the project to:
- prevent Koala mortality (this goal should generally be given the highest priority where the mitigation measures conflict with the goal of maintaining connectivity),
- enable the safe movement of Koalas between each side of the road corridor, and
- safely funnel Koalas in adjacent habitat or landscape corridors to the crossing or underpass
10) Incorporate a monitoring program to evaluate the effectiveness of all impact- measures over the long-term. Effectiveness of impact-mitigation measures should be measured against the specific impact-mitigation objectives identified for the project. Use long-term, remote-sensor activated cameras to observe potential use of structures by Koalas.
11) Plan for the ongoing maintenance of impact mitigation measures into the road’s maintenance program, where possible. With regards to non-structural maintenance activities, such as the regular inspection and removal of trees/weeds growing around and/or on Koala-proof fencing, it may be possible to come to an arrangement with local government road-maintenance divisions to conduct such maintenance activities where these would be of benefit to the local community. For example, such maintenance activities could be conducted where fencing is associated with a local nature reserve or riparian/wildlife corridor.
Impact-mitigation options for reducing the risk of vehicle strike
Where feasible, set 60 km per hour (km/h) enforceable speed limits where a new major road/upgrade intersects with likely Koala habitat patches and landscape corridors. Differential speed limits could be set so that lower speeds are only enforceable during peak, daily, Koala-movement periods (e.g. 60 km/h from 7 pm to 5 am during the local breeding season and 80 km/h at all other times).
Road signage to alert drivers to the fact that Koalas may cross the roadway in the area (even though measures are in place to prevent this from occurring). Interpretative signage should educate:
- construction personnel during the construction stage of the project
- road users and the general public (also could be done through letterbox drops or advertising campaigns)
- members of the public about the impact-prevention/mitigation measures constructed
Installl Koala-proof fencing to prevent the access of koalas to the roadway, and in conjunction with all structural impact-mitigation measures to increase their effectiveness, for example funnelling Koalas to overpasses or underpasses. Fences should:
- be made of interlock mesh
- be a minimum 2 m in height
- be 5 m from any retained trees or plantings to minimise the potential for Koalas to climb over the fence and to minimise potential damage occurring to the fence from falling trees or tree limbs, and
- have a minimum 50cm wide scratch panelling or ‘floppy tops’ installed along the length of the fence to minimize the ability of Koalas to climb the fence
Strategically place climbing poles (made of treated pine logs) at appropriate intervals along road corridor side of any Koala-proof fencing to allow koalas to climb over the fence if they inadvertently enter the road corridor. Include refuge poles/furniture to allow Koalas to escape dogs easily.
Light and noise reduction
Incorporate walls (strategically placed to prevent the creation of barriers to Koala movement) and other techniques to prevent or reduce light emanating from the road (streetlights or vehicle headlights) entering adjacent Koala habitat and adversely affecting habitat quality. Use LED lights to reduce light emissions.
Impact-mitigation options for reducing the risk of fragmentation
Land bridge – also known as an eco-duct or wildlife bridge. This is a (typically) wide bridge that extends over the road. The bridge has soil placed on it, vegetation planted and enhanced with other habitat features (e.g. logs, rocks, water body). It may include a path or road for human passage across it.
Road tunnel – the road is tunnelled through a hill or under the ground to protect an important patch of habitat or landscape corridor. It may be drilled or constructed as a “cut and cover” tunnel.
Bridge – a strong structure to allow only the access and use of Koalas and other arboreal animals. Design, durability and the necessary maintenance interval will depend on the materials you use to construct the bridge and where it is constructed. However, it is recommended that only treated pine logs should be used to construct vertical (or near vertical) climbing poles or frames at each end of the bridge designed for only arboreal animal to access it. It is also recommended that bridges be located at waterway crossings.
Underpasses (reinforced concrete box cell culverts) - are one or more adjacent, enclosed channels below the road formation and typically located where drainage along a watercourse is required. Culverts are laterally square (box culvert), rectangular or semi-circular in shape. So that Koalas will be able to move through, a culvert should be:
- a maximum 40 m in length
- a minimum 2.4 m in height and width, and
- have a low-flow channel incorporated in the design, especially if they are a combined drainage and Koala-impact-mitigation structure.
Benches along underpassess should be installed:
- longitudinally along both side walls of a culvert to allow the passage of Koalas and other fauna through it, and
- well above the average water level in the drainage line running through the culvert so that Koalas can walk along the bench at most times (i.e. water levels will usually be lower than the height of the bench).
Strategically retain preferred food trees near (preferably within 25 m) the proposed roadside as habitat retention, and a means of providing assistance to the movement of Koalas to the overpass or underpass. Use strategic plantings of preferred habitat tree species to supplement retained trees, or compensate for loss of preferred habitat trees. Plantings must occur in depths of soil appropriate for the healthy, long-term survival of the plant species to be grown.
Management documents relevant to the Koala are at the start of the profile.
The following resources may also provide you with useful information to consider when designing your project to mitigate impacts on the Koala:
- Relevant state or local government Koala recovery/management plans for the Koala
- Planning guidelines for Koala conservation and recovery (available at www.savethekoala.com/sites/default/files/docs/conserve/koalaplanningguidelines.pdf)
- Queensland Department of Environment Heritage and Protection guideline - Koala Safety Fencing and Measures (Qld DEHP 2012)
- NSW Roads and Maritime Services Biodiversity Guidelines (RTA 2011).
The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.
|Threat Class||Threatening Species||References|
|Agriculture and Aquaculture:Agriculture and Aquaculture:Land clearing, habitat fragmentation and/or habitat degradation||Listing advice for Phascolarctos cinereus (Koala) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2012p) [Listing Advice].|
|Climate Change and Severe Weather:Climate Change and Severe Weather:Climate change altering atmosphere/hydrosphere temperatures, rainfall patterns and/or frequency of severe weather events||Listing advice for Phascolarctos cinereus (Koala) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2012p) [Listing Advice].|
|Climate Change and Severe Weather:Droughts:Drought||Listing advice for Phascolarctos cinereus (Koala) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2012p) [Listing Advice].|
|Ecosystem/Community Stresses:Indirect Ecosystem Effects:Loss and/or fragmentation of habitat and/or subpopulations|
|Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation||Canis lupus familiaris (Domestic Dog)|
|Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Disease and mortality caused by Koala Retrovirus|
|Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Disease caused by Chlamydia|
|Species Stresses:Indirect Species Effects:Low genetic diversity and genetic inbreeding|
|Species Stresses:Species Stresses:Localised overpopulation|
|Transportation and Service Corridors:Roads and Railroads:Vehicle related mortality|
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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.
Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Phascolarctos cinereus (combined populations of Qld, NSW and the ACT) in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Sat, 8 Mar 2014 13:28:58 +1100.