Researchers boost koala spotting system

July 20, 2020

QUT researchers have published an improved and innovative method for estimating the number of koalas in an area detected by using drones and an artificial intelligent algorithm as they continue the quest of identifying surviving koala populations in bushfire areas.

In an article published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, the researchers led by Associate Professor Grant Hamilton detail the statistical method that uses the number of koalas automatically detected in infrared images of bushland as a starting point.

Their previous research, published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, showed their system was more reliable and less invasive than traditional animal population monitoring techniques.

Professor Hamilton, who co-authored the latest study with PhD student Evangeline Corcoran and Dr Simon Denman, said all methods for spotting koalas in heavy bushland faced challenges, whether spotters used traditional methods such as people looking up at the trees, dogs brought in to sniff out the koalas or high-tech tools such as infrared drones.

"All abundance estimation methods are at least a bit wrong - that's why they're called estimates," Professor Hamilton said.

The lead author on the article, Evangeline Corcoran, said that finding wildlife in a complex environment could be very challenging.

"We never have perfect knowledge, so we never know exactly how many koalas were there when we do a count," Ms Corcoran said.

"No matter how accurate the drone cameras, a koala could be hiding behind a branch when the drone flies over the area or perhaps one koala is counted twice in an aerial survey.

"That's why we generally have a margin of error. We use different terminology, but for example in general terms our current count might have an error margin of plus or minus ten per cent. That means we're confident that the true number of koalas is somewhere within the margin of error

"By accounting for different factors about the site that can impact on how many koalas we detect, we're making the margin of error smaller and so making our estimates more accurate.

"In this way, we are deriving a count figure that accounts for more factors such as temperature, which is an important consideration because our thermal cameras give a more accurate estimate when its colder, and the density of the forest canopy."

Professor Hamilton is currently involved in a project in which he is using his artificial intelligence (AI) system that uses drones and infrared imaging in a collaborative project to count Kangaroo Island's surviving koala population after the recent devastating bushfires.

Professor Hamilton's system for detecting koalas in bushland begins with drones fitted infrared cameras covering an area in a "lawnmower" pattern at early morning and during the colder months so that the heat of the koalas better stands out.
-end-
To contribute to Professor Hamilton's work in this area, go to https://alumni-and-friends.qut.edu.au/giving/save-the-koalas. All funds donated will go towards improved monitoring to assist with wildlife recovery.

Media contact:

Rod Chester, QUT Media, 07 3138 9449, rod.chester@qut.edu.au

After hours: Rose Trapnell, 0407 585 901, media@qut.edu.au

Queensland University of Technology

Related Koalas Articles from Brightsurf:

The northern quoll: An amazingly versatile survivor?
The northern quoll, one of Australia's most adorable and endangered native carnivores, appears to be adapted to dramatically different landscapes -- which may be key to the species' survival.

Researchers boost koala spotting system
QUT researchers have published an improved and innovative method for estimating the number of koalas in an area detected by using drones and an artificial intelligent algorithm as they continue the quest of identifying surviving koala populations in bushfire areas.

New extinct family of giant wombat relatives discovered in Australian desert
A giant marsupial that roamed prehistoric Australia 25 million years ago is so different from its wombat cousins that scientists have had to create a new family to accommodate it.

Palaeontology: Big-boned marsupial unearths evolution of wombat burrowing behavior
The discovery of a new species of ancient marsupial, named Mukupirna nambensis, is reported this week in Scientific Reports.

Tree trunks take a licking as koalas source water
A study published today in Ethology, led by a researcher from The University of Sydney, has captured koala drinking behaviour in the wild for the first time.

Kangaroo Island shows burn scars on one third of the land mass
NASA's Terra satellite provided before and after imagery that showed the extent of the fires that have been ravaging Australia's Kangaroo Island.

Koalas climb like apes but bound on the ground like marsupials
Many marsupials have made a life in the trees, but koalas have evolved the grasping hand and long limbs reminiscent of primates, so Christofer Clemente from the University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia, wondered whether koalas move like other marsupials or primates.

Virtual reality and drones help to predict and protect koala habitat
QUT researchers have used a combination of virtual reality (VR), aerial thermal-imaging and ground surveys to build a better statistical model for predicting the location of koalas and, ultimately, protecting their habitat.

Sperm and egg cell 'immune response' protects koala DNA
Discovery of a type of immunity that protects koalas' DNA from viruses has importance for the survival of koalas and our fundamental understanding of evolution.

New study reveals an innate genome immune response to retroviruses in koalas
A new study from researchers at UMass Medical School and the University of Queensland in Australia identifies a never-before-seen type of immune response in an animal already known for being unique: the koala bear.

Read More: Koalas News and Koalas Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.