We reviewed a koala population study, checking that the report authors had used appropriate spatial modelling and data analysis methods, and that its conclusions were fair.

Koala population modelling in southeast Queensland

The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection commissioned UniQuest (University of Queensland) to assess the conservation status of koala in southeast Queensland. Although populations of this iconic species are increasing in southern Australia, koala were listed as vulnerable in the South East Queensland bioregion in 2004. This assessment will be used to guide the conservation policy and planning for koala in this region.

Koala conservation is a sensitive issue in Australia. Our independent technical review gave the department confidence that the report had been prepared in line with industry best practice, before it was released.

Our review of the modelling techniques and results

The koala population data had been collected over relatively small areas in a variety of surveys since 1996, so a key challenge was the correct handling of uncertainty in the data set. We confirmed UniQuest’s Bayesian approach and checked the spatial methods they had used to map the number of koala across the study area.

Our review included general comments on the modelling techniques and interpretation of results as well as answering questions relating to the model development, treatment of data and potential sources of error.

Technical reviews are good for us too

This opportunity to review work carried out by our peers was also beneficial for us. We believe that sharing our methods and approaches supports innovation and improves best practice. We encourage our own clients to seek an independent review of our work on larger projects.

The modelling techniques that UniQuest applied to our complex data are cutting edge and evolving all the time. I was aware that Dragonfly have also been involved in creating those techniques, so were very well placed to assess how well they had been employed for us.

I’m not an expert in modelling so I appreciated that the review was professional, concise, and not filled with technical jargon. Because it was a logical and impartial critique of my client’s work, I sent it directly to them, which saved me a lot of time. My client found the review useful and agreed with everything that Dragonfly said needed to be done.

The review was provided on time and in budget – that’s important to us in government with tight budgets and accountability for them.

Dr Richard Seaton
Principal Conservation Officer
Threatened Species Unit,Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Queensland, Australia .