Many media are reporting on the June 4, 2014 study in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters explaining how koala bears came to be the original tree-huggers. It turns out that, as temperatures climb, koalas move to cooler trees and put more of their bodies in contact with the trees.
A team of Australian and American researchers explored the fact that as temperatures soar past 37° Celsius (98.6 degrees F.), koalas tended to move lower in trees. They stretch out, placing as much of their bodies as they can in contact with the trees. They’ll even abandon the eucalyptus trees that provide their food, in favor of inedible Acacia mearnsii trees. Acacia tree trunks average slightly more than 5 degrees Celsius below air temps, the scientists said.
Infrared photography and calculations of animal heat loss revealed that the shifts to the cooler trees cooled the koalas.
The scientists said this research provides a very different perspective on the habitat requirements for koalas. They need trees good at air conditioning as well as trees good for food.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.