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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Tree Huggers

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Wednesday, May 23, 2018/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, environment

  Thermograph of Koala on Cooler Branches, Blue-Purple  (credit: Melbourne University)

'Tree hugging' has always been a cool idea but now it takes on a new meaning. Koalas like hugging their eucalyptus trees but no one knew exactly why. Now research using some temperature imaging technology (thermography) has shown why. Koalas like staying cool just like everyone else.

Ecologists from Australia's Melbourne University, along with colleagues from James Cook University in Queensland and the University of Wisconsin in the USA, observed Koala behavior during hot weather on an island near Melbourne. The lead researcher, Natalie Briscoe, said koalas were observed hugging cool tree trunks. In a news release she commented:

“We found trunks of some eucalyptus species can be over 5 degrees cooler than the air during hot weather. Access to these trees can save about half the water a koala would need to keep cool on a hot day. This significantly reduces the amount of heat stress for the koalas."

The research was published in Biological Letters from the Royal Society of London and employed the relatively new technology of thermal imaging to measure differences in surface temperatures such as the tree trunks.



                    Tree Hugging Koala, French Island, Australia  (credit: Melbourne University)

The researchers further added some ecological context to animal behavior:

"when we took the heat imagery it dramatically confirmed our idea that 'tree hugging' was an important cooling behavior in extreme heat. Cool tree trunks are likely to be an important microhabitat during hot weather for other tree dwelling species including primates, leopards, birds and invertebrates."

Thermal imagingtechnology is known for its application to night-vision goggles for military personnel. Its uses applied to wildlife and environmental monitering are now accelerating and so far include studies of animal behavior, night time activities, and identifying poachers. The applications to field biology, ecology, and conservation are limited only by the imagination.


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