Environmental science in one of the foundation research disciplines at Griffith University. This grounding allows a depth and continuity of research that can literally help humans redesign their urban environment to be healthier to wildlife and help animals to change their behavior and help create better suburbs.

This can have a dramatic impact on urban design and planning and development.

An Environmental Futures Research Instituteteam made up of Cathryn Dexter, Justin Scott and Professor Darryl Jones, at Griffith have been retrofitting structures and passages across urban roads to help reduce the Koala road toll. They then have to hope Koalas change their ways to use them.

Recently the team were able to verify 130 successful crossings by koalas involving a retrofitted structure or eco-passage over a 30-month period. With Koals in Southeast Queensland almost endangered, that is a lot of lives saved.

Professor Jones and his team have carried out over $3 million worth of commercial research in the last five years, improving our urban habitats for Koalas and humans and he said nobody knew whether the structures would actually keep koalas safe from being hit by cars or if they would work.

“We expected the animals to take a while to get used to them,” he said.

“To our great surprise they were using them three weeks into it. Can you teach koalas new tricks? You can, that’s the point. I was the first skeptical person to say they’re not that smart.”

The team used a range of technologies that allowed them to not just generically monitor whether koalas passed through the crossing but pinpointed individual koalas and the exact time they entered and left the tunnel. Much of this technology was developed within Griffith or by Griffith alumni.

Camera traps, audio radio transmitters, RFID tags (similar to microchips in pets) and WIDs (wireless ID tags) — that can be detected from a much greater distance — all gathered more information than any previous research.

The WIDs weredeveloped by two Griffith graduates Rob Appleby and Jason Edgar who now run their own wildlife monitoring company,Wild Spy, and were a part of the research.

“The essence of this is you can get really import information using a range of technologies at the same time. That’s a world first. Nobody has done that so comprehensively before.

The use of skills, technologies, deep research and inventive application of results create important benefits for urban planners and developers. Retrofitting is expensive, planning and installing these pathways prior to construction reduces costs and drives up value by having neighbourhoods with a greater natural diversity, especially high value fauna like Koalas.

Professor Jones said most people living in suburban Brisbane or parts of the Gold Coast did not realise koalas lived all around them and that these structures were keeping them safe in their backyards and off the roads.

The research was supported by funding from the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads, which was responsible for the structures.

The crossings studied in Brisbane were within the jurisdictions of Brisbane City, Redland City and Moreton Bay Regional Council.

Traffic volumes for this region are predicted to increase by 19 per cent, or 2.8 million trips per day between 2006 and 2031.

“The continuous clearing of koala habitat for development has placed a great deal of pressure on local koala populations and the risk of vehicle strike is recognised as a key threatening process for ongoing koala persistence in this region.

“Such information will represent a powerful step forward in providing road authorities, developers, and urban planners with recommendations in relation to the design and placement of crossing structures, and ensuring that the costs equal the ecological benefit.”

with Stephanie Bedo