Heat-detecting drones being used to detect Port Stephens koala populations

Researchers from the University of Newcastle have embarked on a new project to survey koala populations in Port Stephens.

More than 130 sites across the local government area will be studied over the next few months using heat-detecting drones to capture the data.

The researchers say the information collected will be able to create a model to better predict koala numbers, which could be used on other species including wallabies, possums and gliders.

Camouflaged in tall treetops, koalas are notoriously difficult to detect. Traditional methods such as acoustic recordings to identify koala calls or spotlighting with head torches are labour intensive, costly and limited in accuracy.

Research leads, Dr Ryan Witt and PhD candidate Shelby Ryan from the University of Newcastle said drones are a cheaper and more efficient way to find koalas. In a previous study, Dr Witt and his team searched a particular location on foot at night with spotlights and found on average one koala every seven hours. When searching the same location using thermal drones, the team found an average of one koala every two hours.

The data will provide clues on how to best manage koala populations. Preliminary data has revealed a concerning absence of koalas in the Tomaree Peninsula area.

The research team is inviting private landowners of large blocks in Port Stephens to get in touch to discuss the potential for their land to be surveyed as part of this study. Please email ryan.witt@newcastle.edu.au.   

Image Credit: Shelby Ryan and Ryan Witt

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