Context. Pathogenic infections are an important consideration for the conservation of native species, but obtaining such data from wild populations can be expensive and difficult. Two pathogens have been implicated in the decline of some koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) populations: urogenital infection with Chlamydia pecorum and koala retrovirus subgroup A (KoRV-A). Pathogen data for a wild koala population of conservation importance in South Gippsland, Victoria are essentially absent.
Aims. This study uses non-invasive sampling of koala scats to provide prevalence and genotype data for C. pecorum and KoRV-A in the South Gippsland koala population, and compares pathogen prevalence between wild koalas and koalas in rescue shelters.
Methods. C. pecorum and KoRV-A provirus were detected by PCR of DNA isolated from scats collected in the field. Pathogen genetic variation was investigated using DNA sequencing of the C. pecorum ompA and KoRV-A env genes.
Key results. C. pecorum and KoRV-A were detected in 61% and 27% of wild South Gippsland individuals tested, respectively. KoRV-A infection tended to be higher in shelter koalas compared with wild koalas. In contrast with other Victorian koala populations sampled, greater pathogen diversity was present in South Gippsland.
Conclusions. In the South Gippsland koala population, C. pecorum is widespread and common whereas KoRV appears less prevalent than previously thought. Further work exploring the dynamics of these pathogens in South Gippsland koalas is warranted and may help inform future conservation strategies for this important population.
Implications. Non-invasive genetic sampling from scats is a powerful method for obtaining data regarding pathogen prevalence and diversity in wildlife. The use of non-invasive methods for the study of pathogens may help fill research gaps in a way that would be difficult or expensive to achieve using traditional methods.