Road-crossing koalas have a fierce enemy in the automobile, but a bit of time-shifting could help, according to University of Queensland (UQ) researchers who suggest a switch to daylight saving time in southeast Queensland could save some of the cute critters.
It's all about motorists and daylight, say researchers from the university. Scientists there monitored traffic patterns and compared them against koala movements. They found, in new research in the journal Biology Letters, that by moving to daylight saving time koala deaths on the road could be decreased by 8% on weekdays and 11% on weekends.
"Daylight saving time could reduce collisions with nocturnal wildlife because it would still be light when commuters drive home," explained UQ researcher Robbie Wilson in a statement.
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Koalas are listed as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) "red list" of threatened species. Their total remaining population is estimated between 100,000 and 200,000 individuals. The Australian government similarly lists koalas in Queensland and New South Wales as vulnerable.
Around Brisbane, says the UQ team, koalas have declined by 80% in 20 years, thanks largely to the threat from cars, disease and dogs.
To help stop that drop, then, the team thinks a time-shift is in order.
"If we can reduce the number of animals hit on the roads by making a simple change like this," said Wilson, "then conservation and road safety should become part of the debate on daylight saving." Presently, use of daylight saving time is decided individually by states and territories in Australia. Queensland has used it on and off since 1917 but currently does not employ the practice.
How stretching the daylight would impact animals that are active chiefly during light hours (diurnal) remains unknown, say the scientists.
"The flip-side of this research is that we don't know the effect daylight saving will have on diurnal animals such as snakes, lizards and birds," Wilson said. "So future research should also incorporate studies of these animals."
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