Griffith University: Citizen science to reveal koala ‘family trees’ from scats

One of the three grants awarded to Griffith University researchers by the Queensland Government will benefit from citizen scientists to better understand and document the DNA profiling of South East Queensland’s koala populations.

The project, ‘Citizen Scientist Monitoring and DNA Profiling Koala Populations’, led by Griffith University and the EcoCentre, received $15,000 from the Office of the Queensland Chief Scientist’s latest round of Engaging Science Grants program to monitor and map koala movements and their ‘family trees’.

This data will be used to establish a long-term koala DNA database to provide vital information for future research into the iconic Australian species.

Queensland high school students will be able to visit the research team at Griffith’s Nathan campus in the heart of Toohey Forest, where they will learn about ecology, environmental monitoring and molecular biology, by spotting, photographing, mapping and recording koalas, collecting koala droppings, or scats, and performing DNA profiling.

As the project develops, members of the public will also be able to photograph and document where they have seen a koala, collect a scat, send it to the laboratory for analysis.

Associate Professor Carney Matheson, from Griffith’s School of Environment and Science and Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, said the DNA analysis techniques were well established at Griffith University and there was no existing long-term citizen science koala DNA program operating in Australia.

“Providing a project that will not only support the learning of high school students but also increase the knowledge we have about our koala populations is a win-win opportunity,” A/Professor Matheson said.

“Developing koala ‘family trees’ will contribute to understanding their relationships, movement and territorial patterns. This data would go into a database, which over time will grow big enough to provide a tool for researchers to interpret the data to establish monitoring programs and koala management practices that if there was interest could be expanded to the whole of Queensland.”

Griffith was awarded three out of the 40 Engaging Science Grants on offer in the latest round. The other projects were:

Smart environmental sensing Australia – Developing a technology to use upcycled e-waste for remote aquatic environmental monitoring with SubStation33, $20,000
STEM program about space exploration (SPASE) – High school students will work collaboratively with Griffith University and Gilmour Space Technologies to build and launch a Low Earth Orbit prototype satellite, $18,889

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