Koalas to feel the heat with climate change

By AAP with AG Staff 5 May 2011
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A Senate inquiry has been told that the koala needs national protection to help shield it from climate change.

CLIMATE CHANGE IS LIKELY to push koalas into populated areas where they’ll be vulnerable to habitat loss, dog attacks and vehicle collisions, a Senate inquiry has been told.

“The koala is a species highly vulnerable to climate change,” says University of Queensland koala expert Christine Adams-Hosking. “Under a future hotter and drier climate, current koala distributions will likely shift to eastern and southern regions where koala populations are already under threat due to high human population densities.”

Christine has been researching the impact of climate change on koalas. This week she was called to present her findings to Senate inquiry hearings in Brisbane into the status, health and sustainability of Australia’s population.

Taking action: koala conservation plans

“My research has modelled where these areas of optimal habitat for koalas will be under future climate change,” she says. “This will inform conservation planning actions and ensure valuable resources are not wasted.”

The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee is considering protecting the species by listing it under The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This would protect the koala as a matter of national environmental significance, and the impact of developments on it would have to be assessed.

Christine says listing the koala would be a step towards developing a national conservation strategy. “At the moment without a federal listing there’s not really a recovery plan or any of those sorts of things in place…It would certainly help.”

Protecting a national icon

With rises in temperature and longer and more severe droughts predicted to occur under future climate change, Christine’s research is identifying refuge areas for koalas under these conditions.

“In the case of the koala, dry inland habitats are likely to become climatically unsuitable, increasing the need to protect and restore coastal habitats, which are under threat from urbanisation,” she says. “National and regional koala conservation policies need to anticipate these changes and synergistic threats before it’s too late.”

“The conservation of adequate habitat that provides refuge areas for koalas under climate change is essential to the survival of Australia’s most recognised icon,” she says.

Christine’s findings are detailed in a paper in the Wildlife Research Journal.