National Koala Genome Project

As part of a collaborative research program we are using ground-breaking technology to conserve koalas right across their range from Queensland to South Australia. Using whole-genome DNA, we can work out how different koalas are from each other and how to manage them. For example we know koalas in the south (Victoria) are bigger and have thicker fur than those in Queensland, because they are adapted to different climates. So we know not to translocate koalas from Queensland to Victoria, but we don’t know where the management boundaries lie. Our research aims to answer this question so koalas can be managed effectively.

We can also work out which populations used to be connected to each so we can inform the development of wildlife corridors to restore gene flow and reconnect habitats. Importantly, by finding out which koalas are “fittest” or have the most genetic diversity, we can help prioritise populations for management.

The first part of this project was completed in partnership with James Cook University, the University of Sydney, and San Diego Zoo Global with funding from the Australian Research Council. The main findings were published, and amongst other things they showed that koalas in the Blue Mountains are critically important for conserving the genetic diversity of the species. Read more on that news HERE

We are now working on a 2nd stage project, with support from the Koala Research Plan under the NSW Koala Strategy and with researchers at James Cook University and the Australian Museum.

We are producing a whole-genome SNP assay panel which will be publicly available and can be used as a standardised, low cost tool to assess koala populations across the country, for coordinated and informed management.

On a finer scale we’ll be using this SNP tool to assess koalas across the Blue Mountains region, to work out how many populations are there, identify any barriers between them, assess how diverse they are and what their population status is (healthy, growing, declining) and how we should manage them. This is critical work in light of the recent bushfires which impacted 80% of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, The genomics work will complement the large scale surveys we are running under our Blue Mountains Koala Project