Faecal Transplant Transforming Koala Eating Preferences Giving them More Robust Survival Choices

Feeding microbes laced capsules extracted from poo pellets of Koalas acting as a stimulus to their changing food preferences for the better, says a team of Australian researchers.

Koalas are known to feed on eucalyptus leaves, but narrowing down on the preference of the variety in these leaves is not entirely up to the Koala but its guts according to the study. A combination of microbes in their lower gastronomical tract decides the variety. Faecal transplant could help species survive and possibly thrive.

The process that involves feeding housed Koalas with different variety laced microbe capsules formulated using koala feces pellets, could increase and diversify koala feeding preferences thus increasing their chance of survival through different regions.

The study was prompted by the declining number of Koalas in 2013 on Cape Otway in Victoria. Dr. Michaela Blyton of the University of Queensland, who led the research was inspired to address this issue. “It was quite distressing because we ended up with a 70 per cent mortality rate,” she said

The research found that this population of koalas had overgrazed on a particular species of eucalyptus known as a manna gum — a rich source of protein and lower in toxic compounds known as tannins.

“Interestingly, these koalas were not moving into another species of eucalyptus known as messmate, which was less preferred. This was despite the fact there were koalas that lived their entire life in the messmate and were able to exist entirely on that food source,” Dr Blyton said.

The research involved infusing microbes from different species feeding koalas feces and making capsules to give to the opposite one. The microbes extracted from manna gum fed feces would be then fed to messmate fed Koala and the messmate microbe to the manna gum fed Koala. The findings showed that preferences could be implanted through this procedure. The study also interestingly found, that messmate became a growing uniform preference.

But faecal transplant capsules will need to be much more robust before they can be used for conservation or rehabilitation, said Dr Blyton.

Celine Frere, an animal ecologist at the University of Southern Queensland, said the study had significant implications for the translocation of koalas. “We’ve always advocated that gut microbiome is really important factor to take into consideration when moving animals around. This study presents strong scientific evidence of the limitations of a koala gut microbiome to adapt to changes in its diet,” Dr Frere said.