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Koala diseases - chlamydia and Koala Retrovirus (KoRV)


Chlamydial bacterial disease (predominantly Chlamydia pecorum and C. pneumoniae) in koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) is of immense concern not only due to the significant welfare implications for infected individuals (proliferative conjunctivitis of tissue around the eyes and resultant blindness, chronic urinary and reproductive tract infections resulting in urine scalding, poor appetite, wasting and kidney failure), but also because of emerging associations linking the disease with koala population declines through disease-associated reproductive sterility and mortality.


Three koala retroviruses (usually abbreviated to KoRVs) have so far been described from wild or captive koala populations. However, the impact of these retroviruses on individual koalas is unclear.


We model the dynamics of these diseases within koala populations and study the impact of these diseases as potential contributors to population declines. 

The aims of our work are to


  • Analyse existing historical data sources to determine the extent to which both clinical disease and prevalence of infection with chlamydia have driven changes in Queensland koala population size.


  • Using existing information, construct and analyse models of the interaction between koalas, infectious disease and other stressors. These models will consolidate our current understanding of the effect that infectious diseases may have on koalas populations and will identify knowledge gaps.


  • Work with all other funded research projects to integrate their findings, assess what the implications are for the viability of koala populations in Queensland and to help guide the empirical research.


  • Combine the previous three outputs into a holistic model to predict the effects of alternative management strategies on the viability of Queensland koala populations.


Our work is funded by


QLD Government Department of Environment and Heritage Protection - Koala Research Grant Program 2012. "Modelling to assess the risk of disease to the viability of Queensland koala populations"


Collaborators include


  • Dr. William (Bill) Ellis, University of Queensland

  • Professor Frank Carrick, University of Queensland

  • Professor Darryl Jones, Griffith University

  • Professor Jean-Marc Hero, University of the Sunshine Coast


Useful references


  • McCallum H., Kerlin D.H., Ellis W. and Carrick F. 2017.  Assessing the significance of endemic disease in conservation – koalas, chlamydia and koala retrovirus as a case study. Conservation Letters. 00:e12425 (link).

  • Grogan, L. F., Jones, D., Hero, J.-M., Ellis, W., Kerlin, D.H., McCallum, H. (2017) Current trends and future directions in koala chlamydial disease research. Biological Conservation 215:179-188 (link).

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