Climate Change Driving Koalas to Dehydration

(CN) – Koalas are at risk of a serious dehydration crisis as a result of climate change, scientists have found.

A koala drinks from a birdbath. Researchers in Australia found rising temperatures and drought caused by climate change are thwarting koalas from getting enough liquid from the leaves they eat. (University of Sydney)

The study, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, found increasing global temperatures are causing koalas to suffer from dehydration more frequently. Because koalas are arboreal folivores – animals that survive off leaves and foliage – they are at the highest risk of dehydration when temperatures rise and drought occurs.

Researchers made this discovery, in part, by setting up 10 koala drinking stations in select locations around New South Wales, Australia. Over a year, researchers documented at least 401 instances of koalas coming to the stations to drink. They concluded the koalas came to drink because they lacked sufficient hydration.

This study’s findings go against some long-held views about koala drinking habits. For years, the general understanding among zoologists and animal experts was that koalas received all the water they needed from leaves. This research, however, indicates that while that may have been accurate before, climate change has raised temperatures and increased the severity of droughts to a level that it has damaged a koala’s ability to rely on leaves as their only source of sustenance.  

Valentina Mella, lead author of the study, hopes this research will have a lasting impact on conservation efforts. “My research aims to implement practical solutions to achieve effective long‐term conservation management actions to help threatened species,” she said in an email.

Dr. Valentina Mella with koala in Gunnedah, New South Wales, Australia. (University of Sydney)

Mella said she also hopes the research “will open up the field of potential management interventions against climate change and will influence the direction of international planning into applied conservation tools.”

When it comes to what she hopes most people will take away from this research, Mella said the immediacy of the problem is key.

“The take-home message from my research on koalas is that climate change is happening NOW and we have the responsibility to find effective tools to mitigate its impact on the ecosystem,” she said.

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