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Koala scat analysis FAQs

OWAD Environment teams up with WildDNA/Federation University Australia for the analysis of Koala scats. We have jointly completed a number of studies and associated reports that had for purpose to either inform effective conservation measures, or provide information to assessing authorities for the purpose of impact assessment (e.g. in the context of Development Applications).




What types of tests are currently commercially available via OWAD?
There is a big difference between what is possible but not yet fully or extensively proven & tested, and what is. For applied studies, OWAD sticks with the tests that are fully and extensively proven & tested, with known costs, known expectations and realistic timeframes for 'real world' applications, and the tests that actually inform management. These commercially available tests currently include, for each sample:
  • Koala DNA profiling
  • Gender identification
  • Pathogen detection (currently including Chlamydia pecorum and Koala retrovirus sub-type A, KoRV-A).
Please note, further tests are currently commercially available but are rarely informative for management purposes; these are more to be used in the context of e.g. academic research with highly specific research questions. Contact us for more information about these.

Further tests are always being developed as part of ongoing Research & Development. New tests are made commercially available once their reliability is fully proven over a sufficiently large sample base, and can be performed in realistic timeframes and realistic costs for use in applied studies.


How fresh do Koala scats have to be for analysis?
Not that fresh! WildDNA is constantly pushing the limit further to obtain 'more from less'. Currently, scats can be as old as 2 months old and still provide a reliable Koala DNA profile (and associated test results).

What is the scat collection process, can anyone do it?
Obviously, the very first step is to make sure you are collecting Koala scats and not Possum scats for example, which can look very similar even to some professional ecologists. Then, knowing which Koalas scats may or may not be viable for analysis is a very specialised skill set. Additionally, there are a number of key processed involved in collecting the scats from the forest floor and in placing them into purpose-built collection kits so as not to damage the precious genetic material. We can train you on all these processes and skills, including how to build your own collection kits. With adequate training, anyone is capable of doing it! For instance, we have trained a few members from a community group and the samples they submitted to WildDNA did provide reliable results, thereby proving that with specialist training even members of the public with limited prior knowledge can do just fine. We encourage professional ecologists, government officers, NGOs, academics, community groups, to seek our training workshop so you too can contribute to building the understanding Koala populations across their range - which genetically distinct populations occur where, which of these are doing well/which of these less so and need governments to intervene urgently, etc. Making significant contributions to Koala research is not reserved to anyone in particular: we all have a role to play in preserving our national icon and all the other flora & fauna species that share habitats with the Koala. See the Services tab or contact us for further information about our training workshop.

What happens to Koala scats submitted to WildDNA?
First, each sample (on average 4 scats per sample from the same suspected individual) undergoes what we call laboratory Quality Control, or 'lab QC'. This is the single most labour-intensive part. It involves extracting and isolating the minute amounts of Koala DNA from each scat, amplifying it, then determining both the quality and quantity of DNA obtained. This results in a 'pass' or 'fail' result. For each sample that passes lab QC, only the scat that provided the best reading is kept for downstream tests. We typically only test 'pass' samples as these are the ones that have the best chance of providing a reliable DNA profile.
'Pass' samples are then typically tested for Koala DNA profile, gender and disease detection.
Once we have the results from these tests, a battery of analyses can then be performed - depending on study goals/objectives, sample size, budget etc. This can involve simply identifying the number of unique individuals sampled (via DNA profile matching) and how these are related (first-degree relatives i.e. parent-offspring pairs or full siblings, second-degree relatives e.g. half siblings, grandparent-grandchild pairs), all the way to full population structure across a region (i.e. which distinct populations occur where and for each population an assessment of genetic diversity, gene flow, migration rates, disease prevalence etc.).

The way we cost scat analysis is broken down into three stages:
  1. Cost associated with submitting the number of samples collected and submitted to WildDNA, and taking those through 'lab QC'
  2. Once we have the lab QC results, the cost associated with the number of samples that will be tested (i.e. typically all 'pass' samples)
  3. One DNA and associated results are obtained, the cost associated with analysis of these results (e.g. pairwise relatedness, population structure etc., as the case may be)
What is OWAD's experience and success in obtaining reliable results from Koala scat analysis?
At current, OWAD Environment has collected and submitted > 400 scat samples (or over individual scats) to WildDNA for analysis. Firstly, 100% of these were confirmed as indeed originating from Koala - including some very peculiar looking ones at times, that in all honesty we would probably not have attributed to Koala if our dogs hadn't told us they were! To date, 81% of all samples collected by OWAD and submitted for analysis passed laboratory QC. Of these, 91% have provided reliable results. This results in a combined success rate of 73% at current, i.e. 73% of the samples we have collected and submitted to date have provided reliable results. This is a very high success rate which we are proud of. Indeed, for non-invasive genetic sampling it is generally considered that anything above 30% is good; 73% is well and truly above that mark!



Page last updated 20 August 2019.