‘Water Bars’ Could Help Koalas Survive Climate Change

It’s been long believed that koalas can stay hydrated just by eating leaves, but researchers have found that isn’t true, and the discovery has led to a way that may help them survive in the face of climate change.

Not having enough water can prove deadly for them, but researchers at the University of Sydney have found if we provide water, parched koalas will come for a drink, and these little ‘water bars’ could be a lifesaver in a warming world.

While koalas face a number of threats ranging from habitat loss and disease to predators, among other problems, climate change is also posing a big threatónot just because they’re particularly vulnerable to heat stress, but because it’s affecting the eucalyptus trees they rely on.

Koalas can get a lot of water by eating leaves, but climate change is reducing the water content in leaves, and increasing toxins in them. Koalas can tolerate a certain level of toxins, but they can’t digest unlimited amounts so they can’t just eat more to stay hydrated.

“It is predicted that increased CO2 emissions will increase the level of phenolics and tannins in eucalyptus leaves,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Valentina Mella. “This means koalas will need alternative strategies to find water – and that’s where we can help with drinking stations.”

For the study, which was just published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers placed water stations out in Gunnedah in western NSW, where a heatwave wiped out an estimated quarter of the koala population in 2009.

They recorded 605 visits to 10 pairs of water stations, with 401 of these visits resulting in koalas drinking. They also found that the number of visits and total drinking time doubled during the summer.

“We weren’t sure if the water stations could be used to mitigate the impact of extreme weather events,” Dr. Mella said. “But our results clearly show koalas will regularly use these stations to supplement their water needs.”

Since the idea that koalas don’t need water, or won’t drink it, was debunked in 2017, initial research has already led to changes that could help. According to a statement, water supplementation has been adopted by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage as part of it NSW Koala Research Strategy, and is used by the North West Local Land Services to help koalas on private properties. Campbelltown in Adelaide has also installed drinking stations to help.

Not only are they expected to help koalas, but researchers say these drinking stations come with the added benefit of helping other thirsty species, including gliders and possums. To help reduce the risk of parched animals being attacked while they’re drinking, the stations have been made inaccessible to ground-based predators.

“Our next steps will be to see if disease, such as chlamydia, influences koala drinking behaviour,” Dr. Mella said. “And we will also monitor individual koalas to examine these drinking behaviours over a longer time period.”

Photo credit: Getty Images

61 comments

Ann W
Ann W21 hours ago

This is all well and good but what the koala needs most is for politicians and developers to stop destroying their habitat for the dubious purpose of economic growth. There have been instances of trees being felled with koalas in them - shameful.

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Paula M
Paula M2 days ago

signed

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Hui S
Hui S2 days ago

thank you for sharing. good to hear that not only koalas are taking advantage of these water bars, but other native Australia wildlife, too!

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Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaege3 days ago

Lets's hope so.

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Toni W
Toni W3 days ago

TYFS

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Toni W
Toni W3 days ago

TYFS

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Shirley S
Shirley S4 days ago

A very thoughtful idea. Petition signed of course.

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Christine V
Christine V4 days ago

Good idea

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Paulo R
Paulo R4 days ago

sounds like a fantastic idea. All thereis that can help these sweet animals survive and other wildlife as well.

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Michael Friedmann

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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