Honors Theses and Capstones

Date of Award

Summer 2014

Project Type

Senior Honors Thesis

College or School



Molecular, Cellular and Biomedical Sciences

Program or Major

Biomedical Science: Medical and Veterinary Science

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science

First Advisor

Drew Conroy

Second Advisor

Alistair Melzer

Third Advisor

Leslie Curren


As the growing human population continues to encroach on wildlife habitat, species are forced to adapt in order to survive. In addition to causing habitat loss, human presence can create more subtle disturbances, such as noise pollution, that disrupt wildlife behavior. Adapting to human presence is particularly difficult for species with specialized resource needs or low mobility. The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), a national icon of Australia, meets both these criteria. Koalas were once abundant throughout Australia, but are now classified as “threatened.” Habitat loss is at least partly responsible for this decline, but anthropogenic noise may also be a factor. The purpose of my study was to examine koala behavior in response to noise disturbance in two sites: an area of high human density and a national park. I used a logistic regression to compare behavioral responses to two types of disturbances, human-induced and natural (non-human), in both sites. The probability of a koala responding to a human disturbance was twice as great in the densely populated site (0.55) as it was in the natural park (0.27). These results demonstrate that regular exposure to human activity can actually hypersensitize wild animals to human disturbances, rather than desensitize them. Broadly, this study shows how a change in wildlife behavior can give insight into anthropogenic effects on a population. This type of information can help conservation biologists prevent further population declines.