By Harry Pearl
Mar. 3, 2017
The drinking habits of Australia's koalas may indicate climate change is starting to bite, a new study has found.
Researchers have used video cameras to observe more than 100 koalas drinking from purpose-built water stations near Gunnedah in north-east NSW for the first time.
The water troughs were set up on the ground and in trees for six months last year.
The scientists behind the study say the behaviour is unusual because koalas usually subsist on a diet of eucalyptus leaves, which are thought to provide all the nourishment they need.
“We found not only that they drank extensively, but visits to the artificial stations depended on rainfall,” Dr Valentina Mella, the study’s lead researcher, said.
“This suggest the leaves they are eating are not providing them with enough water.”
The animals not only drank in the safety of tree tops, but also on the ground during the day, when they would normally be asleep, according to the study.
Dr Mella said the results clearly showed climate change posed a threat to the animals.
“With climate change, leaves became tougher, less moist, have higher concentration of toxins and have less nourishment,” she said. “It's a huge problem.”
Rising global temperatures, as well as an increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration, are expected to have significant impacts upon the palatability and nutritional quality of the koala’s food supply.
More regular heatwaves and droughts will also mean less free water is available for the animals and create conditions for destructive bushfires.