Food for thought (and survival)

Modelling climate change impacts on koala food

The koala is in decline across much of its stronghold range in Queensland and New South Wales. What is its likely future given current trends? We recently modelled the shifts in the distribution and potential future overlaps of the koala and five of its key eucalypt food trees under projected changes in climate. The tree species were the river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), the coolabah (E. coolabah), the forest red gum (E. tereticornis), the manna gum (E. viminalis) and the poplar box (E. populnea). Our results suggest that if we want koalas to survive outside of zoos in the future we’ll need active investment in proactive conservation planning. And we need to do it now.

Australia is particularly vulnerable to climate change, with a projected shift to a much hotter and more variable climate. Furthermore, natural climatic variability appears to be amplifying, particularly in eastern and southwest Australia. Understanding what this means for species like the koala involves modelling shifts in their distribution against a range of variables. We used the software Maxent to develop our models and then projected these models onto a range of scenarios
generated by CSIRO (we used their A1FI high emission climate model scenarios of mean maximum summer temperature and mean annual rainfall). We also included distance to water, elevation, and soil subdivisions as predictors for the koala and eucalypt tree distribution…

 

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