Secret sex life of koalas revealed

From ABC Science, 9 July 2015:

Tracking technology has finally lifted the lid off the secretive love life of Australia’s favourite marsupial, the koala.

Researchers have discovered that while males rarely interact with other males during the mating season, females seem to become a lot more sociable with each other.

In a paper published today in PLOS ONE , the international team of scientists report their findings, which also suggest the bellowing call of the male koala works not only to attract females but to warn other males away.

Despite their iconic status, relatively little is known about koala mating habits because of their solitary lifestyle, says lead author Dr William Ellis, terrestrial ecologist at the University of Queensland.

Female koalas are also ‘reflex ovulators’, which means they only ovulate and become fertile in response to stimulus such as the male bellowings, although koalas do appear to have a breeding season from September to December.

“That means if you want to monitor a number of individuals in a population, you either need a pretty big field team where you’re constantly watching them or you need to make use of some pretty cool technology, which is what we did,” says Ellis.

The researchers fitted a group of 21 koalas on St Bees Island with proximity logging-GPS enabled tracking collars to discover where the animals travelled and which other koalas they interacted with.

After several months of monitoring, the researchers made the surprising discovery that females interact with other females more commonly during the breeding season than during other times of the year.

“Not only do they bump into one another more frequently in the breeding season, they actually spend more time together, so they’re not just passing in their landscape,” Ellis says. Read more.

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