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Thu, 1 Jan 2015

A koala update for Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island residents are invited to learn more about the Island’s koala population at a community presentation this Wednesday (7 November).

Magnetic Island residents are invited to learn more about the Island’s koala population at a community presentation this Wednesday (7 November).

Researchers from James Cook University (JCU) and the University of Melbourne, with assistance from local Queensland Parks and Wildlife (QPWS) staff, have been working over the past two years to get a better understanding of the Island’s furriest residents.

Associate Professor Andrew Krockenberger from JCU will discuss the team’s findings so far at the RSL hall in Arcadia, from 7.00pm on Wednesday 7 November.

“Koalas were introduced to the Island in the 1930s and are particularly interesting now that koala populations in much of Queensland are experiencing substantial decline,” Associate Professor Krockenberger said.

“We also hope our research will shed some light on how koalas might be affected by climate change. We’ve been working right across the range of koalas, from islands off the coast of Victoria up to Magnetic Island, to try to understand how koalas deal with heatwaves.”

After two years of tracking, tagging, weighing and mapping koalas, the researchers can now answer one of the most commonly asked questions: how many koalas are there on the Island?

“The answer is approximately 825 in natural habitats across the Island, with some more living in suburban areas,” Associate Professor Krockenberger said. “That baseline figure is important for us because we want to investigate what happens to their numbers over time.”

The researchers have found that an average female koala on Magnetic Island covers about two hectares of bushland in her regular travels, while each male ranges over around nine hectares. The mixed-eucalypt woodlands that cover 45 per cent of the Island support 80 per cent of the koala population.

“The koalas overlap in their movement, so over much of the Island there’s an average of one koala for every 3.3 hectares. Compared with some of the densities that koalas achieve on islands off Victoria, the woodland is not densely populated,” Associate Professor Krockenberger said.

“We’re interested in whether they’ve stayed in balance with their habitat, avoiding the boom and bust cycles we’ve seen on other islands.”

North Queensland’s harsh dry season, which might help keep the population in check, could also hold some lessons in managing koalas subject to climate change.

“Although we do see some koalas further north, this population is certainly at the hotter, northern end of their range,” Associate Professor Krockenberger said.

“We are learning a lot about what they eat, how much food and moisture they consume and how much energy they expend, related to how much heat they are exposed to.”

Associate Professor Andrew Krockenberger will give a presentation and answer questions on Wednesday night.

“An important part of the meeting is to keep the community up to date on our findings and to thank them for their help,” he said.

“We could not have done this work without the support and local knowledge of the community, QPWS staff, and the Magnetic Island Community Development Association. The assistance we’ve received has been phenomenal.”

Issued November 2, 2012

Media enquiries: E. linden.woodward@jcu.edu.au T. 07 4042 1007