Changing the clocks could save Queensland’s koalas

By Carly Cassella 12 December 2016
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Introducing daylight savings could save koalas in south-east Queensland, new research reveals.

A NEW STUDY has found introducing daylight savings in south-east Queensland could stagger the activity of traffic and nocturnal wildlife, decreasing the number of koalas killed in vehicle accidents.

Over the past 20 years, koala populations in the greater Brisbane area have plummeted by 80 per cent.

Vehicle accidents are responsible for a large percentage of koala deaths. According to researchers at the University of Queensland, every year over 300 koalas are killed from vehicle collisions in the state. The research shows that these collisions generally occur in the late afternoon or early evening, when both vehicle and koala activity are at their peak.

In Queensland, the topic of daylight savings has been a source of great contention. It was first introduced to the Australian mainland in 1971, but Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory continue to stick to standard time. Queensland even held a referendum on the issue in 1992, with the majority of the state voting against the implementation of daylight savings.

Now, new research from UQ shows shifting the clocks in Queensland could alter vehicle activity so collisions with nocturnal wildlife occur less frequently.

A team at UQ tracked 25 koalas across Coomera and Redlands in southeast Queensland. They then analysed data from the Queensland Transport and Main Roads to reveal traffic patterns on roads where koalas are commonly killed. 

The study found daylight savings could decrease vehicle collisions with koalas by eight per cent on weekdays and 11 per cent on weekends. 

“If most people have already driven home before nocturnal animals become active then there will be fewer collisions between wildlife and vehicles,” said Robbie Wilson, a researcher from the UQ School of Biological Sciences.

So far, much of the debate surrounding the introduction of daylight savings in Queensland has been focused on human impact. The new study reveals the importance of acknowledging the wildlife conservation argument, too.

“Daylight savings not only has implications for our human activity patterns but also has consequences for wildlife,” said Robbie.

Changing the clocks could not only protect Queensland koalas but also other nocturnal animals like kangaroos, wallabies and wombats. Even humans could benefit from the change, with studies showing around 5 per cent of car accident casualties are caused by run-ins with wildlife.

The conservation argument for daylight savings, however, may not be so simple. 

“We must also equally acknowledge that some wildlife may be losers,” said Robbie. “Any animals that are most active during periods when traffic is greatest, after the implementation of daylight savings, will be negatively impacted.”

In future research, the team at UQ hopes to explore how species other than koala are affected by DST to determine the overall wildlife impact in Queensland.

The findings were published in Biology Letters.