Science Diary: Koalas – Mystery
Music; Ambience: dawn chorus, loud currawongs, insects
“In Victoria and South Australia, the koala was virtually extinct.â€
Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Biologist Alistair Melzer studies koalas, which are found only in Australia. Although they’ve been around for millions of years, the koalas’ survival in the future is uncertain.
“During the late 19th century and early 20th century, there were waves of disease that cut through the koala populations, and the super abundant koala collapsed by the late early 1930s to be quite a relatively rare animal in the Australian landscape.”
Alistair Melzer conducts his research with koalas on St. Bees Island in Queensland Australia, one of a number of islands where koalas were brought to by humans.
“Koalas were introduced to islands off the coast of Victoria and South Australia, in part, to protect the animals from extinction. But, also, koalas were introduced to the islands for aesthetic reasons as well. In St. Bees Island, koalas were brought in as an attraction for people visiting the island as a resort experience in the 1920s and 1930s.
The resort is long gone, but the koala population has survived, and that’s led to a bit of a mystery.
“What I’m doing is leading a research team, trying to understand why the koalas on this island are basically staying as a steady population. The question we’ve got is that where koalas have been introduced to islands in the other parts of Australia, they become pests. They reach plague proportions. They kill the trees that they live on; and cause a lot of damage. Where koalas have been introduced to islands in Queensland that’s in the tropics, these populations don’t run out of control.”
So what’s holding the koala population steady on St. Bees Island? We’ll find out in future programs. Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner