• Image by Tyler Nienhouse (Flickr/CC BY 2.0)Source: Flickr/CC BY 2.0
Perhaps the wellbeing of our wildlife could end the country's divide on Daylight Savings Time?
Chloe Warren

25 Nov 2016 - 1:02 PM  UPDATED 25 Nov 2016 - 1:11 PM

Scientists have been fitting koalas with GPS tracking collars in an attempt to gain a novel foothold in the age old Australian daylight savings debate.

Australia hasn’t been united in its Daylight Savings Time (DST) status since the Second World War, when the entire country observed the sense-making ritual.

Since then, states and territories have remained (stubbornly) divided on the issue. While Western Australia, Darwin and Queensland stand firm that logic plays no part in how they choose conduct their day-to-day affairs, the rest of the country has conceded.

Researchers from the University of Queensland are now weighing in on the argument and are suggesting that the safety of Australian wildlife should be considered in this ongoing discussion.

Although there has been scientific research into the advantages and disadvantages of DST, existing studies have focussed on mental health, motor vehicle accidents and even trampoline associated injuries. This, however, is the first time the welfare of animals has been brought into the equation.

Associate Professor Robbie Wilson was one of the lead authors on this study.

“Because humans are largely driven by time on a clock, and wildlife is largely driven by when the sun goes up and down, we expected that if we could offset those two times with DST, we would see fewer encounters between nocturnal wildlife and vehicles. “

Much to his surprise, this is exactly what they found.

By fitting koalas with GPS tracking collars and monitoring the road activity and reported koala collisions in semi-urban Brisbane areas, Robbie and his team were able to investigate the risk posed to koalas relative to peak traffic times.

They saw that a move to DST could help reduce the number of koala collisions by up to 8 per cent on weekdays, and 11 per cent on weekends.

This could mark an improvement in koala numbers in the Brisbane region, which have plummeted by 80 per cent in the last 20 years. The animals have been classified as vulnerable by the state of Queensland since 1992.

As well as protecting koala safety, implementation of DST could help protect humans on the road too. Other nocturnal animals whose contact with traffic could be reduced include kangaroos, wallabies and wombats. Car accidents involving these animals are extremely dangerous – they account for 5.5 per cent of serious on-road causalities.

“When there's no DST, the consequence is that most people are going home on the roads when it's getting dark, and that's the time when nocturnal wildlife become active.

“If you change the time by which people rule their lives, then most people have already finished their journey home of an afternoon by the time any nocturnal wildlife becomes active.”

“If you change the time by which people rule their lives, then most people have already finished their journey home of an afternoon by the time any nocturnal wildlife becomes active.”

Associate Professor Wilson admits that, initially, there was some scepticism directed at their project.

“A few people scoffed at it when we first posed it, but we had an inkling that it just made perfect sense,”, he said. “Then when we gathered the data together…we were actually a little surprised that it was so clear cut.”

The scientist is keen to point out they’re really only just beginning to look into how DST might affect wildlife welfare, and that this research is far from extensive enough to draw a conclusion on the debate.

“The flipside of this research is that we don’t know the effect daylight saving will have on diurnal animals (those active in the daytime) – such as snakes, lizards and birds - so future research should also incorporate studies of these animals,” he said.

“Besides, we don’t want our curtains to fade for no good reason.”

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