Projects

Click on any of the below for more information:


Counting Victoria’s Koalas

2021

In November 2020, the Commonwealth Government announced a plan to determine the  distribution and abundance of Koalas throughout their range. CSIRO is now compiling existing data to identify where the gaps are in Koala population information.

We are assisting with this project by determining who is counting Koalas, and where and how they are doing that in Victoria. This will assist us in developing a better Koala monitoring program for Victoria.

If you have information you would like to share, please contact Desley at dwhisson@deakin.edu.au.


Conserving koalas in a complex landscape: South Gippsland’s koalas

2021

Currently seeking expressions of interest from potential PhD candidates.

We are seeking potential PhD candidates with interests in terrestrial wildlife ecology and conservation genetics, and experience in undertaking ecological field research to undertake a project on the ecology of koalas in South Gippsland. The position is available only to domestic students. Applicants should have achieved an excellent grade (e.g., H1 or HD) in an Honours or a MSc research program and have proven skills in scientific writing. The successful candidate will be offered a 3-year PhD scholarship (~$28,000 p.a. tax free) with potential for a 6-month extension through the School of Life and Environmental Sciences. The scholarship is fully funded by Hancock Victoria Plantations (HVP) who will also provide annual operational funding and in-kind support to the project.

The PhD candidate will be supervised by Dr Desley Whisson and Dr Adam Miller. The position is based at the Melbourne (Burwood) Campus but will involve considerable field work in South Gippsland.

The Project
The South Gippsland koala population is of high conservation significance due to its genetic uniqueness. However, little is known about this population to inform its conservation (Wedrowicz et al. 2018). The population occurs in a region where habitat is highly fragmented, and where establishment and harvest of forestry plantations result in a spatially and temporally dynamic landscape. Effective conservation of this population relies on an understanding of the population’s geographical extent, gene flow through the landscape, use of forestry plantations, and koala response to forestry management actions.

This project aims to improve our understanding of the spatial and temporal dynamics of the South Gippsland koala population, and the response of koalas to forest management activities.

Specific objectives are:

  • To determine the geographical extent of the South Gippsland koala population and patterns of gene flow/connectivity in the landscape;
  • To understand koala behaviour and use of different habitat types including pine plantations that may provide important shade, cover, or links between native vegetation;
  • To determine the impacts of pre-harvest translocation of koalas on koala health and movements.

To apply
Please complete and send your expression of interest form and CV to Dr Desley Whisson at dwhisson@deakin.edu.au. Please note that submitting your expression of interest and CV is not a formal application for a Postgraduate Research Degree at Deakin. You will be advised by the faculty if you should proceed to applying for candidature and the scholarship.

Please contact Desley Whisson (dwhisson@deakin.edu.au; Ph: 03 9251 7302) if you would like to discuss the position prior to submitting your application.

The EOI Form and CV must be submitted by 19th July 2021.


Koalas in blue gum plantation landscapes

2017 – present

With the expansion of blue gum plantations and an increase in the area of koala habitat in areas of southern Australia, koala populations have increased dramatically. This project seeks to understand the ecology of koalas in a plantation landscape. Specifically, we wish to determine:

  • Factors influencing the distribution of koalas (habitat type, food trees, landscape configuration etc)
  • Movements of koalas between the matrix of habitats available (plantation, linear strips of trees such as those along roadsides, native vegetation blocks).

There is an urgent need to improve our understanding of how koalas utilise blue gum plantation landscapes. Such information is critical for improving the welfare outcomes for koalas in these landscapes, by informing regulations pertaining to plantation harvest, and the management of native habitat.

Media related to this project

The Conversation (28 October 2019) “The Blinky Bill effect: when gum trees are cut down, where do the koalas go?” This article was authored by Kita Ashman on her PhD research project.

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The Mornington Peninsula Koala Project

2016 – present

The Mornington Peninsula has been subject to extensive landscape modification for more than 150 years, with widespread clearance of native vegetation for orchards, pasture and other rural and urban development. Koalas are indigenous to the region, but during the early 1900s, populations declined due to hunting pressure and land clearing. The current koala population is thought to be derived almost entirely from koalas translocated in 1972 from French Island to Sandy Point, Somers, and Arthurs Seat. Although they initially thrived, anecdotal reports from Peninsula residents suggest that the population has been declining in recent years, and koalas will likely increasingly encounter threats as development of the area continues.

This project was initiated to provide:

  1. Baseline information on the current distribution of koalas on the Mornington Peninsula.
  2. An understanding of habitat use and movements of koalas in urban landscapes.

Please join our facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/MPKoalas) if you would like to join the community and follow this project.

Media related to this project
The Age (5 January 2017) “How far will even a perfect 10 young male go for a date? In koala terms, quite a way“. Click here for the short interview/video.

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Cape Otway Koalas

2008 – present

Koalas were introduced from French Island to Cape Otway in the early 1980s at the request of Cape Otway locals. Koalas thrived and by 2008 when this study commenced, the population density of koalas was > 8  koalas per hectare in manna gum woodlands of the area. This provided opportunity to understand the ecology of koalas in a high-density and unmanaged population. Sadly, in 2013, we witnessed a widespread crash of the koala population when population densities had risen to > 20 koalas per hectare and trees could no longer support their browsing pressure. The government finally conceded that management was needed on welfare grounds, and between September 2013 and February 2014, euthanased > 700 starving and emaciated koalas.

LastLeaf
Photo by D. Whisson©

Much of this research was generously supported by The Earthwatch Institute and its many volunteers (2011 – 2016). Although the Earthwatch project came to an end, research conducted by our team continues to provide important information on koala densities and habitat condition across the Cape, and has been critical in informing management actions.

Read more about this research (prior to 2016) in this blog.

Media related to this project:

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Bioacoustics for Koala Surveys

2016 – present

Bioacoustic monitoring is an emerging field that offers considerable promise for monitoring koalas. Male koala ‘bellows’ have a unique spectral signature, are associated with the breeding season and can be heard over long distances. This study investigated the potential for using bioacoustics to monitor koalas. We examined the diel and weekly variation in koala vocalisations during one breeding season (August 2016 to January 2017) and throughout the koala’s range in Victoria.

Songmeters (Wildlife Acoustics) were deployed at ten locations and programmed to record for 5 minutes per hour (to determine the diel cycle), and for 6 hours per night during the period of greatest koala activity (to determine seasonal variation). Bellowing activity increased from three hours before sunset to a peak at four hours after sunset. Less than 14.5% of bellows were recorded during daylight hours. Bellowing activity also varied during the breeding season, increasing from August to a peak in November, and then declining. Consequently, detection probability was highest during the mid to late breeding period (October – January). Where population density was high (>1 koala per hectare), only one night was required to detect presence, whereas at low density sites (<1 koala per hectare) up to seven nights were required (when recording for 6 hours at night).

We are continuing to test this technology and are developing a recogniser for southern koalas. We also are applying the method for other vocalising arboreal species (eg, Yellow-bellied Glider).

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