A RESEARCHER has found koala populations are likely to shift towards coastal regions as climate change drives up temperatures and reduces the number of food trees in their current habitats.
Dr Christine Hosking from The University of Queensland's Global Change Institute said the NSW Government should focus on conserving suitable habitats and food trees within 150km of the coast.
NSW Labor leader Luke Foley announced on Monday his party would create a 315,000 hectare "koala national park" in the Northern Rivers if elected to power in March.
The move would fit seamlessly into Dr Hosking's recommendations, which also included focusing koala conservation efforts in areas such as the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast hinterlands and north-east of Melbourne in Victoria.
"There are more than 800 species of eucalyptus in Australia, but koalas are very selective and only use a small number of those for food and moisture," Dr Hosking said.
"The geographic range of food tree species that are favourable to koalas is shifting and decreasing owing to the increasing severity and frequency of heatwaves and drought."
According to Queensland parliamentary papers from 1928, more than 500,000 koalas were killed in just one month during koala fur trade's final open hunting season.
Research published in the Australian Journal of Ecology suggests koala populations crashed by up to 80% because of drought and heatwaves in the Mulga Lands bio-region in the 1980s.
Around the Koala Coast in south-eastern Queensland there was a 51% drop in koala numbers in less than three years because of urban development, according to a 2009 Queensland Government report.
"If we are to safeguard this national icon from further decline we must identify priority conservation areas where koalas are most likely to persist and where there is likely to be suitable habitat under a changing climate," Dr Hosking said.
"This is a vital koala conservation planning step that should be used to inform future policy and development decisions."
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.