A Moment of Science

Koala Bears Help Ecologists And Conservationists Map Habitats

Koalas are being used to study populations and habitats. Researchers hope to learn where koalas prefer to live and eat.

Koala bear in a tree

Photo: Erik K Veland (flickr)

Koala bears exclusively eat Eucalyptus leaves.

Koala bears are known for being picky eaters. The marsupials only eat the leaves of the Australian Eucalyptus tree. Researchers are using the koala bears’ eating habits as a way to map where the animal visits. Knowing this can help ecologists learn where animal populations have grown or declined.

Koalas Are Picky

Researchers from the Australian National University and the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute in Scotland looked at leaves from all trees in the Eucalyptus woodland available to koalas.

To figure out which leaves native koala bears preferred, the researchers tested the leaves on captive koalas and recorded how much they ate.

Yum Or Yuck?

They found that koalas preferred leaves that did not contain lipid-soluble phenolic chemicals (also known as formylated phloroglucional compounds).

Next, researchers looked at where koalas preferred to look for leaves. Experiments relieved that wild koala tree preference could be predicted using the data from the captive koalas.

It Looks Like A Good Neighborhood!

Koala bears aren’t just picky eaters; they are picky about where their food comes from. Researchers have discovered that koalas have preferences for tree size, neighborhood, and neighbors.

Koala bears appear to prefer large trees but taste of the leaves and neighborhood location are most important. Koalas also preferred to visit trees that were surrounded by either smaller, less attractive trees or by larger, more attractive trees.

Why A Tree Preference?

Researchers believe that trees around smaller, unattractive trees look better in comparison.

On the other hand, trees surrounded by huge, attractive trees were visited more because of attractiveness and neighborhood location.

How Is All This Research Used?

The environment can be a difficult thing to trace. The hope is that this experiment will help map where koalas are eating and living. Using koalas in tracking and examining the population can help measure plant resources and animal populations.

Read More:

  • Koala Bears May Be the ‘Pickiest’ Marsupials Around (Science Daily)

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Margaret Aprison

Margaret is a graduate of Indiana University with a degree in Telecommunications and a minor in Psychology. The daughter of two scientists, Margaret has been surrounded by the subject her entire life. She enjoys social media, writing, television, and, of course, science!

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