Koala Research at CQU

A Central Queensland researcher is delving into the chemical make-up of koala poo in key areas of Queensland to determine how stressed the species may be. CQUniversity koala researcher Dr Flavia Santamaria said that there’s mounds of information about the health of koalas that can be extracted from a few pellets of poo and this information could help secure koala populations into the future.

Koala Research at CQU


So, it's all in here. This is koala poo and I'm not sure how much you can see, but there are a few pellets here and there is so much information that we can obtain from these pellets. My side of the story is that basically we have analyzed the poo and we are trying to look at the cortisol chemicals in this poo. So what happens is when we are stressed we release cortisol and other hormones and the cortisol once is injected in the blood if you want from the body it goes through the system and then ends up in your poo. Once it goes through the system and ends up in the poo it goes through a process that is called metabolism and this process produces this metabolites which has basically chemicals of these hormones and the chemical that we are looking for is something like similar to cortisol but more elaborated.

So we have identified what chemicals there are for cortisol in one of the phases of this project. Now the second phase was about the baseline of these cortisol metabolites which are these chemicals and um what we are trying to do is to measure the levels; actually what we have done is measure the levels of this baseline. So the baseline is the normal levels that animals should have when they are not stressed what we need to do is measure these levels which we have done and then we will compare two levels that we find in the wild when koalas are having their normal lives. So we are trying to understand if certain situations that are out there are actually stressing koalas and we do that by analyzing the feces. Well habitat clearing is one of the problems with koalas that is causing we believe it causes stress because if you clear the habitat koalas need to roam around much more than they would if they were in trees so they look you know for trees because that's where they live. They are so-called folivores which means that they eat only leaves of certain species of eucalyptus and which means that they have to find these eucalyptus trees and to look for these eucalyptus trees they need to wander around. Now if they wander around they have to cross roads so they get road killed, they go in backyards because sometimes that's where the trees are and they get eaten by dogs or chased by dogs and that causes a lot of stress. Stress is also linked to an increase in diseases so it's well known that when a person as well a human is continuously stressed they can become ill severely ill and the same thing can apply to koalas so we need to establish if there is a link between cortisol metabolites, which are these chemicals, stress and increase of diseases. We know that one of these diseases that affects koalas is chlamydia and has got incredibly high mortality, so if there is a link we need to find out and probably go and talk to governments, state and federal, and explain that there is a link between stress, so habitat clearing stress and diseases.

Ultimately what we want to see is the habitat is protected, that not all are habit in urban areas is cleared at the moment a grid percentage is cleared for roads for housing which we know we understand it is humans need to live somewhere and humans also need to move around, but we also need to protect the habitat of these species which is endemic of Australia, so it's unique to Australia. It's a flagship species, it's an umbrella species, which means that there are if you protect koalas you protect many other species, because you keep the habitat healthy so other many other species will survive of animals and us as well of course because we breathe air so and you know oxygen comes from trees so there is a link you know it's a holistic approach.