They sleep, eat, and sleep some more. Their capacity to sleep up to 20 hours every day is a well-known fact about koalas. So is their love of eucalyptus leaves. They eat nothing else.
These two things make koalas particularly vulnerable to habitat loss, but for a long time, scientists also thought that low genetic diversity was to blame for declining populations and local extinctions of this quintessentially Australian creature.
The koala genome tells a different story. Rebecca Johnson, one of the leaders of the Koala Genome Consortium, says the results of the sequencing show that koalas are genetically diverse, which suggests that declining populations are the result of people’s activities rather than inbreeding.
In this interview, she explains how this new genetic knowledge will help conservationists to identify populations that are particularly susceptible to disease and to better manage koala throughout Australia in the face of new pressures of urbanisation.