Theme: Biodiversity and conservation science, Ecology genetics and evolution, Environmental management, Zoology and wildlife biology

Description: This project is an industry collaboration with Ripper Drones, funded by the Qld Government. The aim is to develop and demonstrate rigorous, efficient drone- based protocols that use the most effective combination of thermal and light photography to estimate population size of koalas in fragmented habitat. We will recommend improved methods that avoid over-estimating population size, and account for variability in detection of koalas. We will apply the best technique to determine the population size and distribution of koalas in the Burleigh Heads region, identify where koalas are most likely to encounter road traffic and dogs using intensive camera-trapping at sites and roads informed by our drone surveys and citizen science participation.

The project outcome will improve accuracy of population estimates, to clarify koala population responses to conservation actions in SEQ. The distance method is used globally to estimate wildlife population size. To avoid under-counting, the method estimates how many individuals are missed on separate transect lines, accounting for detectability and variability. The method calculates how many koalas are missed based on the drop in sightings with distance from the observer. Numbers of koalas detected by a drone camera are expected to decline when koalas are lower in trees. However, drone surveys in SEQ typically follow a protocol in which they travel an overlapping path that risks missing koalas closer to the ground, and double-counting at canopy level. We will assess the extent of bias under different survey protocols, and identify and recommend the most accurate drone survey protocol, and apply this to a south-east Queensland population.

Additional Information: Commencing semester two 2024 or semester one 2025. Ideal student background: some quantitative skills and field ecology experience. This project will involve some nocturnal fieldwork (together with the industry partner).

Contact: Assoc Prof Diana Fisher