Koala Research
Home of the Koala Ecology Group
The University of Queensland
St Lucia, Australia 4072

Koala Ecology Group

Research locations, projects and publications

The Clarke Connors Range Koalas
Koalas occur in a range of locations and environments across Queensland, both coastal and inland.
We are investigating the koalaas that live in the Clarke Connors Ranges region - our focus is koalas of the Nebo area.
Koalas in the Nebo region rely on the considerate use of land by graziers. Some families have had koalas on their property for generations, some have only seen them recently. Koalas and cattle co-exist on these properties.
Koalas that occur near the Peak Downs Highway can be killed while crossing what has become a busy road. If you travel this highway, be alert for koalas especially around dusk and dawn. If we can reduce the road kill, we can help save this population.
Koala Bellowing - what it means.
In Spring, the forests inhabited by koalas come to life with the sound of male koalas emitting their deep grunting “bellows”.
At St Bees Island, off the coast of Mackay in Queensland, our team is investigating this interesting behaviour.
We are studying whether males are talking to other males, or to females, and how vocalizations might stimulate breeding behaviour in female koalas.
Koalas on St Bees Island wear GPS (Global Positioning System) collars that record their location every two hours. Solar powered remote sound sensors have also been deployed amongst the forests of St Bees to record koala bellows throughout each day and night.
The field research team consists of Bill Ellis and Sean FitzGibbon, working with Prof. Paul Roe and Jason Wimmer, from QUT.
For the first time, we are able to monitor the spatial response of all females (and other males) to the vocalizations generated by koalas at our site.
We now know that koalas can identify one another using the bellow - and that each bellow tells other koalas how big the bellower is!
Koalas start bellowing in August at St Bees island, and things get really noisy during September and October. At the end of December, we hear very few bellows. While this corresponds closely with the breeding season for the koalas, we are also interested to see how metabolically costly the bellowing is. Some of the important scientific papers we have published include:

Ellis, W., S. FitzGibbon, et al. (2015). "The Role of Bioacoustic Signals in Koala Sexual Selection: Insights from Seasonal Patterns of Associations Revealed with GPS-Proximity Units." PLoS ONE 10(7): e0130657.

Ellis, W., F. Bercovitch, et al. (2011). "Koala bellows and their association with the spatial dynamics of free-ranging koalas." Behavioral Ecology 22(2): 372-377.

St Bees Island Koala Research

The koalas at St Bees Island live on a tropical continental island some 30km off the coast near Mackay. We are studying this comparatively healthy group of koalas, living across several areas on the island using a range of techniques.
Our work here begain in 1998, and we have been following this group constistently since then. We are studying the population dynamics, eco-physiology and thegenetics of this population, which may hold the key to the recolonisation by koalas of revegetated areas of the mainland in the future.
The St Bees Island koalas have been the source of valuable information of koala biology, and we have produced many keystone scientific papers as a result of our work, including:

Ellis, W., S. FitzGibbon, et al. (2015). "The Role of Bioacoustic Signals in Koala Sexual Selection: Insights from Seasonal Patterns of Associations Revealed with GPS-Proximity Units." PLoS ONE 10(7): e0130657.

Lee, K., J. Seddon, et al. (2013). "Genetic diversity in natural and introduced island populations of koalas in Queensland." Australian Journal of Zoology 60(5): 303-310.

Charlton, B. D., D. Reby, et al. (2012). "Estimating the Active Space of Male Koala Bellows: Propagation of Cues to Size and Identity in a Eucalyptus Forest." Plos One 7(9): e45420.

Melzer, A., W. Ellis, et al. (2013). Central Queensland's Koala Islands. Conserving central Queensland's koalas. N. Flint and A. Melzer. Rockhampton, Queensland, Koala Research Centre of Central Queensland: 25-28.

Pye, G. W., W. Ellis, et al. (2013). "Serum vitamin D levels in free-ranging koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus)." Journal of zoo and wildlife medicine : official publication of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians 44(2): 480-483.

Schmidt, D. A., G. W. Pye, et al. (2013). "Fat-soluble vitamin and mineral comparisons between zoo-based and free-ranging koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus)." Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 44(4): 1079-1082.

Re-wilding and translocations of koalas.

During 2014, eight displaced koalas (5F, 3M) were translocated to a 4,400ha property where koalas had not been seen for several decades. The property contains large areas of suitable koala habitat. The translocated koalas were fitted with tracking collars and monitored closely to assess their short-term behavioural responses, habitat preferences and the establishment of home ranges.
Five of the koalas (4F, 1M) have established home ranges near each other in the area where they were released. These koalas were recaptured in March 2015 and given a thorough health assessment by a specialist veterinarian; they were all in good condition and two of the females were carrying young that were conceived in their new environment.
A further two of the eight koalas (1F, 1M) dispersed off the property soon after release. The dispersing male was hit by a car but was returned in early March 2015, after a lengthy period of rehabilitation at a wildlife hospital. The dispersing female settled on an adjacent property but was relocated back in March 2015 to provide breeding opportunities. Both are currently residing in the same general area occupied by the five resident koalas, such that the current population on the site is composed of seven mature individuals (5F, 2M).
The translocation has progressed well to date but further work is required to ensure the success of this attempt to re-establish a koala population in unoccupied habitat. Various elements of the program require ongoing examination, including monitoring the health and dispersal of the young.
The monitoring program is on going and providing the first detailed evidence of the behaviour of translocated koalas. If continued, the project could provide a well assessed example of how to successfully translocate koalas to alternative suitable habitat – a management strategy that may become very important in the conservation of the species.

Somerset - Mt Byron Koalas

Our goal at Mt Byron is to develop a sustainable economic environment that encourages producers to grow their businesses while enhancing the biological quality of the landscapes and achieve targeted conservation outcomes.

The philosophy is to take a cooperative approach to identifying and facilitating conservation and management targets in a range of land use scenarios (urban, grazing, cropping, strategic asset holdings etc) and to identify and deliver benefits to land holders and communities within and beyond the precinct.

This requires a multi-scale approach, especially when considering patterns of connectivity which may be in any shape or size and which will have to be designed so as not to impinge on current and future uses and aspirations of land owners and to respect their views on threats (such as fire).

We are currently studying koalas in this area and mapping their distribution to identify the priority areas for conservation (and to locate potential threats). We need to understand how the population functions – where dispersing koalas go, from where immigrants come, what the key resources are and how and where disease and other impacts present risks for this group. We need to identify the current food and shelter resources in the Brisbane Valley and quickly prepare a strategy to improve and increase habitat quality and to protect habitat under a range of future land use scenarios. In this way, we will be well placed to avoid the declines that have characterized the other south-east Queensland populations.

We also need to understand the economic drivers of land use and the cost-benefit tradeoff associated with conservation activities. By approaching local landowners with a agriculture-friendly approach to conservation, we can explain how each small step taken contributes to a large functioning environment and how important this may be at a national scale, by protecting and enhancing local biodiversity and in particular the future of an endangered species. Coupling this approach with detailed knowledge of the cost-to-operator of participating in the program will promote conservation activities according to their value to the program and their cost to the landholder. We will understand how each element of the program will work and the land holder will be appropriately compensated for any lost productivity that result.

The end result is one where it is in the landholders benefit to support the conservation measures and in doing so the agricultural activities that might be central to the landholders profitability and sense of connection to the land are retained, alongside the endangered species.

Climate Change and Koalas

We are examining the body temperature responses of koalas in the field.
By monitoring the ambient temperature against the body temperature of koalas, we can determine when koalas are outside of their "comfort zone".