Koalas are a functionally extinct species. At least this is what activists have declared a few weeks ago. These animals which are alive in very limited numbers will be soon unable to produce viable new generations according to activists.
Koalas are a real symbol of Australian wildlife and have lived in these territories for several thousands years. However this species is threatened particularly due to climate change and land clearing. Over the last thirty years their numbers have considerable declined to the point that this species could be considered today as “functionally extinct”. At least this is what activists from the Australian Koala Foundation are suggesting. They have stated that there are apparently less that 80, 000 koalas in the wild.
Future generations are threatened
Functional extinction is different from numerical extinction. Numerical extinction is when only a handful of individual remain of the species. As a result a future for this species is unlikely. A so-called “functionally extinct” species can be represented by two scenarios. The first scenario is when the shrinking population is so low it can no longer play an important role in its ecosystem. This is particularly the case of dingos, for example. They are so few dingos today that they have a very limited influence on the species they feed on.
The second scenario is when there aren’t enough adults that are sexually mature who can secure a durable population. This the case with koalas. Only 80, 000 individuals remain which might seem like a lot on paper. However this lack of numbers could unfortunately lead to significant cross-breeding. As a result these problems can have an affect on the viability of future generations.
A species vulnerable to human influence
In 2016, a different calculation of Australian koala populations recorded a decline in numbers of 24% over the last three generations. By contrast, the number of koalas living in the wild was estimated at about 329,000. That is much more than the numbers estimated by the Australian Koala Foundation this year. It is therefore difficult to evaluate the exact population of the species, but the two studies agree on one point. Their numbers have been falling for several years and humans are the main culprit.
“It is difficult to say exactly how many koalas remain in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and the Australian capital territory, but they are extremely vulnerable to threats such as disease, the effects of climate change, or deforestation “, confirms Christine Adams-Hosking, a researcher at the University of Queensland. According to the Australian Koala Foundation, land clearing in Australia has so far eliminated 80% of the Koala’s natural habitat.