Koalas are one of Australia’s most iconic kangaroos, according tomedia CNET. The plight of koalas has been the focus of attention as Australia has been hit by unprecedented bushfires in the past few weeks. The fire has severely damaged the habitat of the bagged animals, and it is estimated that as many as 1,000 koalas may have died in the blaze. This is a tragedy for species already struggling to survive under the effects of climate change, disease and deforestation.
Recent news suggests that forest fires have destroyed 80 per cent of koala habitat, exposing the species to “functional extinction”. This has led to discussion slots on social media users, with a large number of retweets on some platforms. But the good news is that experts disagree that koalas are already facing functional extinction, and that it is not the forest fires that are putting koalas on the brink of extinction. The idea of the species at risk was raised long before the forest fire sstormed across Australia.
“I don’t think koalas are functionally extinct,” says Rebecca Johnson, koala geneticist at the Australian Museum. “In other words, the fire stakes could have a huge impact on some of the most valuable populations we know, which are critical to the long-term survival of the species. “
On May 10th the Australian Koala Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting iconic kangaroos, said it believed that “koalas may have become functionally extinct throughout Australia” and that the number could be reduced to 80,000.
The press release did not provide information on how the number of koalas was calculated. AKF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Christine Adams-Hosking, an environmentalist at the University of Queensland, wrote an article for The Conversation in May outlining the fate of the Australian koala. In it, Adams Hosking makes it clear that the application of functional extinction labels may be too hasty. In a 2016 study, researchers worked together to try to quantify the number of koalas left, but this was a complex process.
“It takes a lot of effort to determine whether the koala population scattered in eastern Australia has gone extinct,” Adams-Hosking wrote. “It is very difficult for scientists to fully understand the number of koalas in Australia, so it is difficult to classify the species as “functional extinction.”
Jacqueline Gill, a climate scientist at the University of Maine, hinted in a tweet that there might be a conflict of interest: “A few nonprofits have reported a sharp decline in the population.” Johnson said: “The koala is an iconic reminder that our biodiversity and ecosystems will change more broadly, directly because of human influences. “They should be the catalyst for the beginning and understand and protect all of our biodiversity through dialogue, because they are not the only species that need to be protected. In addition, AKF makes it clear that its definition of “functional extinction” means that the species “has exceeded the point of recovery”.
Researchers are working tirelessly to keep the species alive. Johnson is using the power of genetic code to open up new avenues for conservation. In July 2018, Johnson and colleagues sequenced the koala genome for the first time to identify genes that could help prevent infectious diseases and protect koalas.