Koala Life Research Series: Dr. Diane Colombelli-Négrel

27 Sep. 2021 5 min read

Dr. Diane Colombelli-Négrel is a researcher at Flinders University. Her research focuses on developing non-invasive koala monitoring techniques, including using drones and facial recognition technology to count, identify and re-identify koalas. Koala Life spoke to Dr Colombelli-Négrel for the Koala Life Research Series.

Traditionally, monitoring koala populations has involved capturing and individually marking koalas, a process that is both labour-intensive and poses potential welfare issues. Dr. Colombelli-Négrel hopes that her research will provide a way to monitor koalas non-invasively and at a large scale, to get a better understanding of both numbers and movements.

“It is very important to develop non-invasive techniques to monitor animals such as facial recognition or drone monitoring, if it is proven that it has low impact on the koalas,” Dr. Colombelli-Négrel says. “Koalas are declining in parts of Australia. And while in South Australia numbers were pretty good, the recent fires have reduced the numbers dramatically. So we need to ensure that we are aware of the new numbers, aware of their recovery post fires, and can minimise other impacts that affect their survival.”

Koala behaviour and physiology is being monitored to test the impact of the drones, with the best outcome being that koalas don’t show any signs of stress. However, if there are any impacts, the benefit of her research is they might be able to minimise them. “Drone research is something that is used a lot across Australia and especially in Queensland to monitor koalas. However, people have used drones without necessarily look looking at the impact. I think the we are one of the few groups investigating this potential impact.”

The facial recognition technology uses a unique part of the koala’s face – their nose. Dr. Colombelli-Négrel hopes to share her results with other researchers and further the application of artificial intelligence to identify animals in the wild. The ability to recognise individual members of a species in the wild is vitally important to grow an understanding of individual movements as well as population estimates, and this understanding will allow the development of meaningful management strategies.

The research aligns perfectly with Koala Life research priorities and we are proud to support such a good example of survival science.

You can watch the full video below or on YouTube here.