Already under pressure from habitat loss and disease, koalas now face a new threat: climate change. They cope poorly with the droughts and heatwaves that are expected to become more common in southern Australia in years to come. To make matters worse, increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reducing the nutrient content of eucalyptus leaves, their sole food source.
Scientists say koala numbers have already declined sharply in some areas, and they warn that unless more energetic conservation measures are taken, the mammal’s viability could be in doubt. “This species is supposed to be common, yet it’s slipping to extinction under our noses,” Christine Hosking, a nature conservationist at the University of Queensland, said yesterday.