Dr Rolf Schlagloth
Dr Rolf Schlagloth

CQ could hold the key to koala species’ survival

Central Queensland’s koala population may hold a key to the species’ long-term survival in the wild, according to a CQUniversity expert.

Koala ecologist with Koala Research-CQ and the Flora, Fauna and Freshwater Research Group, Dr Rolf Schlagloth said a crucial step in protecting the dwindling koala population was adaptating to the new norm with regards to bushfires.

“Australians have been using fire as a tool to shape the landscape and manage resources for at least 60,000 years,” he said.

“However, human-induced climate change, with increased fire risks and fewer opportunities for safe and effective burning, now limits our application of this tool.

“The causes and, the “solutions” to climate change are in our hands.”

Dr Schlagloth points to CQ’s conservation and ­management efforts and the persistence of its koala population as evidence of this.

He said low-density koala populations in Central Queensland could hold a key to the long-term survival of this iconic species under the right management conditions and with the appropriate allocation of resources.

“Koalas occur extensively across Queensland’s subtropical and tropical grassy woodlands and open forests – usually at low densities,” he said.

“These landscapes burn frequently, and the fire regime is a fundamental factor in maintaining forest structure and composition.

“Introduced high biomass, exotic grasses and lantana increase the risk of canopy scorch and koala death, as well as localised extinctions.

“In Central Queensland these conditions are particularly evident around Mackay and adjacent ranges.”

In saying this however, thanks to strategic burning, herbicide treatment and grazing, widespread fire impact is currently still limited here.

In comparison, Dr Schlagloth said koalas to the south and along the east coast were under constant threat from the loss and fragmentation of habitat, collisions with vehicles, dog attacks, disease and more recently, fire.

“Of course, the same general threats to koalas exist in Central Queensland as they do to the south, however, in the vast grassy woodlands and open forests of Central Queensland, such threats are not as extreme,” he said.

“We need to know more about the ecology and the density of koalas in CQ’s separate habitats and how they respond to various large events.

“We need to investigate and enrich our knowledge of how human behaviour affects these populations.

“When it comes down to it, human behaviour is at the core of all the management – the responsibility lies firmly on all of us.”