Dr Celine Frere and USC detection dog Bear.
Dr Celine Frere and USC detection dog Bear.

DNA detectives find genetic clue to Noosa koala origin

Researchers intent on preserving a healthy Noosa koala population have discovered a genetically distinct gene pool in the headland national park.

Cutting edge research led by Dr Celine Frere of the University of Sunshine Coast strengthens reports the Noosa National Park survivors are descended from five koalas translocated from Bribie Island forestry sites in the 1960s.

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“Noosa Heads is not well connected to the rest of the Noosa Biosphere and that is probably why there is two genetic populations,” Dr Frere said.

The USC detection dog team of Billy-Jean, Bear, Maya and Baxter.
The USC detection dog team of Billy-Jean, Bear, Maya and Baxter.

“Overall, we found that koalas are highly genetically connected across the Noosa Biosphere, but we identified two unique pools on the right and the left (areas) and in between they intermix with each other.

“What that patchwork of landscape means is potentially their inability to move about the landscape and maintain genetic connectivity … isolated pockets can result in inbreeding,” she said.

Dr Celine Frere reveals Koala genetics research in Noosa Biosphere. Image Noosa Biosphere Reserve Foundation.
Dr Celine Frere reveals Koala genetics research in Noosa Biosphere. Image Noosa Biosphere Reserve Foundation.

Dr Frere and her USC Detection Dogs for Conservation team revealed the outcomes of extensive satellite imagery of Noosa habitat combined with DNA comparisons of koala scatt (poo).

The research was co-funded by Noosa Biosphere Reserve Foundation and WWF Australia.

“Koalas these days are living in a habitat that is highly fragmented and there’s a lot of habitat loss,” Dr Frere said.

“Also we know koalas are experiencing sharp population declines that is also going to impact the genetic integrity of the populations.”

Life’s a snooze for a koala found out on location, but survival is tougher.
Life’s a snooze for a koala found out on location, but survival is tougher.

“The future of koalas is in question, it’s dire but at the end of the day scientists have been researching koalas for quite a while, we understand the threats quite well.”

They include chlamydia infections, dog attacks, vehicle strikes and devastating bushfires.

“It’s about the political willingness to try and mitigate those threats,” Dr Frere said.

“As researchers we try to provide (Noosa) council and Noosa Biosphere with the necessary information so they can make appropriate conservation decisions.”

Dr Frere said the 2400ha purchase of Yurol and Ringtail State Forest was a crucial koala corridor.

Finding out how many koalas were left in the shire went beyond the scope of her team’s research.

“Trying to accurately measure the number of koalas (in Noosa) is probably the most difficult task,” Dr Frere said.

“It would take a lot of (research) money to try and identify that number.”


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