Conserving Koalas in the 21st Century PDF Print E-mail

Conserving koalas in the 21st Century: synthesizing the dynamics of Australia’s koala populations.


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Project overview


Koalas are one of Australia’s most recognised native Australian animals but Koala populations are now suffering widespread declines. This will continue relentlessly if we do not stem the losses. To halt and reverse these declines, it is important that we synthesise what we know about Koala population dynamics and the regional drivers of change.  During the current Senate Inquiry into the status, health and sustainability of Australia's Koala population, the lack of a comprehensive and integrated understanding of Koala population dynamics across the broad geographic range of this species (Figure 1) was identified as a key shortcoming to the management and conservation of Koalas at a national scale. Conserving Koalas is a complex and challenging task, made more so by the fragmentary spatial and temporal nature of existing data, and the fact that research on regional variations in population trends and underlying threatening processes shows marked differences.



This proposed ACEAS Working Group is an initiative of the recently-formed Koala Research Network (KRN) - a collaboration of over 60 highly-qualified koala researchers. The KRN aims to provide robust science to inform sustainable koala conservation and management. The group will bring together key researchers from three states plus the Australian Capital Territory to share data and knowledge on current and emerging trends in regional Koala populations.  It will synthesise these data and expert knowledge to answer the following questions:

(i) what are the population trends in Koalas and how do these vary regionally?

(ii) what are the drivers of these trends and how do these drivers interact spatially and temporally? and

(iii) what actions will be the most effective in dealing with data integration and population decline issues identified in questions (i) and (ii)




For enquiries about this project please contact the Principal Investigator This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it



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Interactive map and other products



Interactive map

Now available on the ACEAS Data Portal.

The ACEAS portal display allows the user to undertake a regional comparison of Koala populations utilising an interactive spatial visualisation.



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Final report


Conserving koalas in the 21st Century

FINAL REPORT available for download [1.9MB]

Download PDF





Adams-Hosking, C., McBride, M.F., Baxter G., Burgman, M., de Villiers, D., Kavanagh R., Lawler, I., Lunney, D., Melzer, A., Menkhorst P., Molsher R., Moore, B.D., Phalen, D., Rhodes J.R., Todd, C., Whisson, D. and McAlpine, C.A. (2016) Use of expert knowledge to elicit population trends for the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). Diversity and Distributions 1-14. doi: 10.1111/ddi.12400


McAlpine C., Lunney D., Melzer A., Menkhorst P., Phillips S., Phalen D., Ellis W., Foley W., Baxter G., de Villiers D., Kavanah R., Adams-Hosking C., Todd C., Whisson D., Molsher R., Walter M., Lawler I., Close R. (2015) Conserving koalas: a review of the contrasting regional trends, outlooks and policy challenges. Biological Conservation 192: 226-236. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2015.09.020



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Workshop Reports


Workshop 1 Report (20–23 February 2012)


The workshop aimed to review Koala population status and trends geographically, with an eye to a regional approach that enabled differences and commonalities among regions to be identified.  It was recognised that current data on Koala numbers are patchy, with no consistent monitoring method and hence there is a high level of uncertainty. There was widespread recognition that, year-to-year, populations seem to change slowly, but decade by decade, the changes can be considerable. Accurate population assessment is hindered short-term population fluctuations that potentially mask long-term trends.  The workshop recognised that concerted action to conserve Koala habitat and individual Koalas can make a difference, and that the value of protecting existing habitat and restoring degraded habitats cannot be underestimated.

It was recognised that New South Wales and Queensland have natural Koala populations, while central and western Victoria and South Australia have introduced populations. The introduced populations are considered stable, although some (e.g. Mt Eccles and Kangaroo Island) are subject to managed declines due to overabundance. The prognosis for these populations is for continued stability, but with increasing vulnerability to land use pressures and extreme events such as droughts and bushfires.  The south Gippsland population of Victoria is a natural population with high genetic diversity, and requires a different management approach.

The evidence indicates that Koala populations of coastal and western Queensland are mostly declining, although some low-density populations (e.g. Oakey, eastern Darling Downs) are relatively stable. The most pronounced declines are in southeast Queensland, where urban development has destroyed and fragmented large areas of high quality Koala habitat, with resulting increases in mortality from vehicle collisions, dog attacks and disease. In the past 20 years, there have been substantial population declines in southwest Queensland and central Queensland due to drought, heatwaves and land clearing. These populations are particularly vulnerable to projected changes in climate. In central and southern inland Queensland, coal and coal seam gas resource developments and associated infrastructure pose a new threat.  The long-term prognosis for Queensland populations is for contracting populations in western regions and urbanising coastal regions, with some low-density sub-coastal rural populations remaining relatively stable.

New South Wales Koala populations in urbanising coastal regions are declining, with some coastal populations (e.g. Eden and Iluka) facing local extinction. However, there are several populations (e.g. Lismore, Campbelltown, Southern Highlands) which appear to be relatively stable. In northwest NSW, the Pilliga forest population has experienced a sharp decline in the past decade due drought and wildfire, while the Gunnedah population declined sharply in 2009 due to drought and heatwave. Both populations are facing new pressures from coal and coal seam gas developments. More information is needed on the status of populations in protected areas in NSW.

In a second workshop, we will focus on areas where no data are available and there is uncertainty regarding population trends. The workshop will use an expert elicitation tool as a means of obtaining and synthesising the most reliable expert opinion on these trends.


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back row: Greg Gordon (retired, Queensland), Peter Menkhorst and Charles Todd (DSE Arthur Rylah Institute Victoria), Greg Baxter (the University of Queensland), Robyn Molsher (DENR SA), Jim Foley (Australian National University), Dan Lunney (Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW Government), Clive McAlpine (University of Queensland). middle row: Alison Specht (ACEAS Program Manager), Rod Kavanagh (private consultant, NSW), Deidre de Villiers (DERM Qld), Desley Whisson (Deakin University), Christine Adams-Hosking (University of Queensland), Alistair Melzer (Central Queensland University).front: Ivan Lawler (Commonwealth Government SEWPAC) and Bill Ellis (University of Queensland).absent: Rob Close (University of Western Sydney), David Phalen (University of Sydney), Steve Phillips (BioLink consultancy), and Michele Walter (DENR SA)


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Workshop 2 Report (18–21 June 2012)


The first workshop identified areas where koala populations are in decline, where they are stable, and where populations are natural or introduced. The aim of the second workshop was to build on this work by estimating koala population sizes and estimates of changes in population sizes in the 38 bioregions where koalas occur.

We conducted a four-step Delphi expert elicitation procedure. This approach allowed us to address the gaps in knowledge regarding national koala populations with the robustness of collective judgement. The four steps of the Delphi method ask for an upper estimate, a lower estimate, a best guess and a percentage confidence interval.  Prior to the commencement of the workshop, the participants were required to complete the first round of the questionnaire. These results were then re-evaluated during the workshop and a second round of elicitation was conducted.

The outcome of the two workshops will be a synthesis of the distribution and abundance of koalas, population trends, and a region-specific summary of threats to koalas. Peer-reviewed journal publications will be produced. The information will be used to inform researchers, managers and decision-makers to ensure that viable koala populations persist across their natural range.

The KRN is very grateful to ACEAS for funding and facilitating these workshops and also thanks Professor Mark Burgman and Marissa McBride for their invaluable assistance in conducting the expert elicitation process.

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Workshop 2 Participants

Back rows L-R: Peter Menkhorst (DSE Arthur Rylah Institute, Victoria), Alistair Cockburn (Observer, Commonwealth Government SEWPAC), Jonathan Rhodes (The University of Queensland), Ben Moore (University of Western Sydney), Clive McAlpine (The University of Queensland), Ivan Lawler (Commonwealth Government SEWPAC), Greg Baxter (The University of Queensland), Alistair Melzer (Central Queensland University), Robyn Molsher (DENR, SA), David Phalen (University of Sydney)

Front row L-R: Marissa McBride (assistant to Facilitator, University of Melbourne), Mark Burgman (Facilitator, University of Melbourne), Jean Cochrane (US Fish and Wildlife Service, Observer), Desley Whisson (Deakin University), Christine Adams-Hosking (The University of Queensland), Rod Kavanagh (Private consultant), Charles Todd (DSE Arthur Rylah Institute, Victoria) and Deidre de Villiers (DEHP, Qld).

Absent: Dan Lunney (Office of Environment and Heritage, New South Wales)


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Last Updated on Sunday, 03 July 2016 00:09