Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Investment in Koala Habitat

Media release
15 October 2012

Koala habitat will be better protected after an investment from the Gillard Government into new research.

Minister for the Environment, Tony Burke, said that the Government would provide funding under the National Environmental Research Program for research into use of a new aerial imaging technique for assessing habitat quality for koalas across eastern Australia.

“The koala is an iconic Australian animal, they hold a special place in the community,” Mr Burke said.

“We know that they are under pressure in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory from habitat loss and urban expansion, as well as vehicle strikes, dog attacks, and disease.

“This investment will look into using technology to help map habitat quality across areas ranging in size from a just a few to thousands of hectares.

”Koalas are fussy eaters: they choose certain leaves to ensure they get enough nutrients and to avoid toxic chemicals.

“A few, key chemicals are found in these leaves and thought to explain why koalas select particular trees and prefer certain landscapes.

“When I put the koala on the threatened species list, I said we needed to turn the corner on koala numbers. This research will help to provide a better road map on how to do that.”

High-resolution hyperspectral remote sensing technology, employed by mining companies for mapping minerals in soils, offers enormous potential for assessing wildlife habitat across whole landscapes.

Airborne hyperspectral sensors use reflected light to determine the chemical composition of a material. The wavelength of light reflected or absorbed by a sample corresponds to particular chemical bonds, so the spectrum of reflected light is a measure of the overall chemistry.

Measurements are taken across a wide range of wavelengths and can provide precise measures of leaf chemistry in eucalypts.

The research has the potential to provide fast information about koala habitat quality, so that priorities can be determined for doing surveys and managing their habitat.

It is funded under the National Environmental Research Program and addresses priorities in the National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy, which include further developing techniques to improve the understanding of koala habitat.

The study will also provide baseline data on leaf chemistry in tree species across eastern Australia for use in future studies on the impacts of climate-change.

As elevated carbon dioxide is known to increase production of some chemicals disliked by plant-eating animals, the ability to monitor leaf chemistry and quality over time will be particularly important for the management and survival of species like the koala.

The research is being funded under the National Environmental Research Program Emerging Priorities which funds world-class research to inform environmental decision-making.

The Government has committed more than $5 million to the NERP program to ensure we have the best available science to tackle a range of environmental challenges including water use in the Murray-Darling Basin, flying foxes, the impact of population growth in our capital cities and threats to the Great Barrier Reef.