Researchers at Griffith, QUT and UQ have received grants for studies into koala health and population dynamics, thanks to a $3.2 million investment from the Queensland government.

Professor Hamish McCallum from the Environmental Futures Centre is leading Griffith’s investigations into koala health and has received nearly $450,000 towards modelling that will assess the risk posed by disease to the viability of Queensland’s koala populations.

Professor McCallum has been interested in koala ecology for many years and has supervised a number of Phd student on koala research over the years. He insisted that the koala population decline in Queensland is a big issue.

“The issue of the role of disease in koala decline is one that has not been resolved yet,” Professor McCallum said.

“Koalas get a chlamydial disease, which is basically a venereal disease, but there are a couple of versions. There is the urinogenital one which sterilises them, but another causes conjunctivitis which gets into their eyes and blinds them.”

“The issue is whether the koalas are getting the disease because of other stressors or whether the disease itself is driving the population dynamics,” he said.

“Essentially what I do is disease ecology, which is the study of wildlife disease and the effect it has on their populations.”

Professor Hamish McCallum

Professor Hamish McCallum from the Environmental Futures Centre at Griffith’s School of Environment.

“I take a fairly quantitative approach. I do a lot of mathematical modelling and this project will act as the glue that brings many of the other projects that are being funded together to work out what it actually means for the koala populations.

“There are a variety of potential management interventions that we can take, such as vaccines, but to actually understand if vaccinating koalas at a population level is going to work, we also need to know what proportion and where we need to vaccinate in order to support the population.”

“My job is to use the mathematical models and tools to pull all of the existing information and these additional strands of research together to see what it means for koala populations.” Professor McCallum said.

Environment Minister Andrew Powell said it was no secret that koalas were under significant pressure.

“These kola research grants are part of the Newman Government’s $26.5 million, Investing to protect our Koalas initiative,” Mr Powell said.

“The research will provide tangible outcomes to better inform koala management in the field.”