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California Impact

Professor Works to Protect Koalas in Australia

A koala clings to a tree branch.

Cal Poly Professor Greg Brown, whose research is focused on community engagement and participation, is working with a team of researchers from three universities and four local governments in New South Wales, Australia, to protect koalas, which are a nationally threatened species.
Brown, who heads Cal Poly’s Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department, said the overarching goal of the research is to identify locations that provide high koala conservation value and also have community support for conservation. The Australia Koala Foundation estimates there are less than 80,000 koalas today, down from millions in the last century. Human development and encroachment are the key drivers for the current decline in koalas, Brown said.

“While humans are the source of the problem, they are also the solution,” he said. “Effective conservation outcomes require community and local government support to protect koalas in the future.”
Brown recently submitted the first of several planned research articles addressing the many challenges of koala conservation to the journal Biological Conservation. The article evaluates the use of crowdsourced citizen observations of koalas to identify the location and distribution of koalas in a study area in New South Wales.
The study used an internet survey asking citizens to identify koala locations and express place preferences about where new development should — or should not — occur by dragging markers onto a Google map of the study area. 
“Community participation identifies where there is broad-based public support for koala conservation and provides an important counter-weight to increased calls for new development,” said Brown. “The collaboration of local government is vital to the success of the research project.”
Having documented the effectiveness of citizen science for observing koalas, the next phase of the research will be to develop a map of the study area where conservation efforts are feasible and where there was public support for conservation action.
Brown joined Cal Poly’s Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department in 2016, after serving academic leadership positions at the University of Queensland, Central Washington University, University of South Australia, Alaska Pacific University, and Green Mountain College in Vermont.

A koala stands in a cleared forest area in Australia.
An injured koala stands in a cleared forestry area in Australia. Louise O’Brien, WIRES (NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc.)

The researchers and governments involved in this current project include scholars from University of Queensland, Southern Cross University, and University of Sydney, and representatives of four local governments in Bryron Shire, Tweed Shire, Ballina Shire, and Lismore City. The article can be viewed at
Brown was named on the 2017 list of Highly Cited Researchers. The annual list produced by Clarivate Analytics recognizes the most frequently cited researchers spanning the globe in 21 fields of the sciences and social sciences, representing leading researchers whose papers have supported, influenced, inspired, and challenged others