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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Tree Huggers

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Wednesday, June 4, 2014/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, environment

Koalas like hugging their eucalyptus trees but no one ever knew why. Now research using some new temperature imaging technology has shown why. Koalas like being cool like everyone else.

A team of ecologists from Melbourne University in Australia, along with colleagues from James Cook University in Queensland and the University of Wisconsin in the USA, observed the behavior of Koalas during hot weather on an island near Melbourne. The lead researcher, Natalie Briscoe, said koalas were observed hugging cool tree trunks. In a university 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 ( thermography ) to measure differences in various surface temperatures such as the tree trunks.


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."


Thermograph of Koala on Cooler Tree Branches  (credit: Melbourne University)

Thermography is known for its wide use in night vision goggles for military personnel. It is nice to see the technology applied to uncover ecological adaptations.

'Tree hugging' has always been a cool idea but now it takes on a new meaning.

WHB


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