Species On The Move

As climate change impacts habitats around the world, species are on the move, trying to adapt — and survive.

About This Species

Koalas, the furry marsupials of Australia, are rarely found far from a eucalyptus tree. Their sharp claws and opposable digits allow them to dig into the trees, keeping them safely above ground day and night. Koalas sleep for up to 18 hours, and when they are awake, they are eating. Each koala eats roughly two and a half pounds of eucalyptus leaves each day, storing snacks for later inside their ample cheeks. They eat so much eucalyptus they even take on its smell (think cough drops).

Climate change koala range extinction

Koalas are among the 10 species most vulnerable to climate change. (Credit: albagloria5 via Creative Commons)

A koala spends the first six months of its life cuddled inside the pouch of its mother. It spends the next six clinging to its mother's back or stomach. A fully grown koala is between 2 and 3 feet tall—relatively small considering that each koala requires about a hundred trees of space for its "home range." 

Conservation Status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources lists koalas as vulnerable, which is just one step away from endangered. That's due to a number of factors, like drought and extreme heat, which have caused the population to decline by an average of 29 percent over the last three koala generations.

Humans are another major cause. Eucalypt forests in inland Australia are being cleared for agricultural development, while urban sprawl eats up more of the forested eastern seaboard.

Map: Koala climate change range shift

Looking Forward

The koala has the unfortunate honor of being named by the IUCN as one of the 10 global species most vulnerable to climate change. That is due to their limited ability to adapt rapidly—and rapid climate change appears to be headed their way.

Climate change koala

Climate change will force koalas from one problem area into another. (Credit: WikiMedia Commons)

Australia is projected to warm faster than much of the rest of the globe, according to a 2015 report by the country's science and meteorology agencies. And the inland region is expected to warm more than the coasts.

A hotter, drier future climate is expected to drive koalas to the southeast, according to a 2011 report in the journal Wildlife Research. But the koala population in that area is already declining due to threats like high human population densities, habitat loss, dog attacks and vehicle collisions. As the inland regions become uninhabitable, the coastal region will continue its rapid urbanization.

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