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What a Difference a Year Makes

As the end of the year approaches we tend to look back and realize how far we have come in a matter of 12 months. You may have a new house, job, or family member.  A year can either seem like an eternity or a quick blink of an eye.  Personally, I have children and time seems to fly by and looking back on pictures of my kids from the beginning of the year usually astounds me as to how much they have grown (although I don’t need pictures to tell me that my son is now taller than me!). 

Yet, our personal lives are not the only things that change in a year. The world around us can and does change over time too. We may not notice all those changes but it is always fun for my family to see how the seeds we have sown in our garden have now become mature plants. The same happens out in the natural world. You may have read about how things have changed in places close to home like the recovery of burned areas here in Southern California. Koala habitat in Australia is no different.

A year ago I was in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales right after devastating fires had burned huge areas of land. Dr. Kellie Leigh (Science for Wildlife) and I were hoping to spot some koalas while out looking at potential field locations for her to continue her koala conservation project but we saw none. Fast forward to this past November (2014) when I was once again in Australia in the Blue Mountains with Dr. Leigh.

There has been tremendous re-growth of the eucalyptus forests and over the past year, Dr. Leigh had located some areas where she thought there would perhaps be small pockets of koala populations in the Blue Mountains. We were eager to head out to track koalas to see what we could find. With the help of University of Western Sydney researcher and an honor student, we spent a week in the Blue Mountains searching.

Unlike last year, we didn’t have far to go before we saw them! To our amazement we not only saw, but also heard numerous koalas. November is part of the breeding time for koalas in Australia so it is not surprising to hear them bellow to one another throughout the night as well as see them. However, what we experienced in this area rivaled anything I’d ever seen or heard in all my time spent on St. Bees Island (off the coast of Queensland)!

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At one point we were watching a breeding pair and heard about seven other males calling in the same area. After a week in the bush of the Blue Mountains it is safe to say that Dr. Leigh will be spending many more days and nights studying in-depth the biology of one of Australia’s most iconic species, the koala.

In order to do that. she will now be deploying GPS/VHF collars on these New South Wales koalas in order to collect data on their movement patterns, breeding activities, food and tree preferences and a plethora of other behavioral information on these iconic creatures. This behavioral and ecological data will then be compared to data that has been collected at other field sites in Australia throughout the koalas’ home range.  And this time next year, I am sure that I will be amazed at what a difference a year makes… again.

Jennifer Tobey, Researcher, Behavioral Ecology

 

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