Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Tree use by koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) after fire in remnant coastal forest

Alison Matthews A B , Daniel Lunney A , Shaan Gresser A and Wendy Maitz A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Environment and Climate Change (NSW), PO Box 1967, Hurstville, NSW 2220, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, PO Box 789, Albury, NSW 2640, Australia. Email: almatthews@csu.edu.au

Wildlife Research 34(2) 84-93 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR06075
Submitted: 20 June 2006  Accepted: 19 February 2007   Published: 24 April 2007

Abstract

The aim of this study was to examine the effects of fire on resource use by a population of koalas in remnant coastal forest. Fifty-five koalas were monitored regularly by radio-tracking for up to 35 months. The attributes of each tree in which the koala was sighted were recorded, giving a total of 8390 records. Analyses were undertaken on a range of ecological information. Regeneration of the forest began immediately following the fires and within three months koalas were seen among the epicormic growth. From a total 4631 trees used by koalas, 3247 (70%) were burnt. Observations of koalas feeding included 53% in burnt trees. Koalas changed trees frequently; individual trees were used once only on 3555 occasions (42% of all observations). Of all the trees used, 95% were used by only one collared koala; no trees were used by more than three koalas. Swamp mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta) was the tree species most frequently used by koalas, particularly at night and by breeding females. Koalas preferred trees of larger diameter (>30 cm) and used significantly taller trees during summer. This study has shown that resource depletion from intense wildfire is short-term for koalas because they utilise burnt trees within months of the fire for both food and shelter.


Acknowledgements

This work is the outcome of a long-term effort by many people with complementary skills: the late John Barker, Tiffany Knott, Anne Carey, Glen Stevenson, Native Animal Trust Fund, Port Stephens Shire Council, Hunter Water, NPWS local staff, local veterinarians, John Simpson RZM, and Dionne Coburn. External Funding support: Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife, EPA Environmental Trusts, Koala and Other Endangered Species trust fund. This research was conducted under the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service Animal Ethics Committee permit No. 950301/01.


References

ANZECC (1998). ‘National Koala Conservation Strategy.’ (Environment Australia: Canberra.)

Callaghan J., Leathley S., and Lunney D. (1994). ‘Port Stephens Koala Management Plan. Draft for Public Discussion.’ (Port Stephens Council: Raymond Terrace, NSW.)

Cork, S. J. (1996). Optimal digestive strategies for arboreal herbivorous mammals in contrasting forest types: why koalas and colobines are different. Australian Journal of Ecology 21, 10–20.
CrossRef |

Curtin, A. , Lunney, D. , and Matthews, A. (2002). A survey of a low-density koala population in a major reserve system, near Sydney, New South Wales. Australian Mammalogy 23, 135–144.


Dique, D. S. , Thompson, J. , Preece, H. J. , Penfold, G. C. , de Villiers, D. L. , and Leslie, R. S. (2003). Koala mortality on roads in south-east Queensland: the koala speed-zone trial. Wildlife Research 30, 419–426.
CrossRef |

Ellis, W. A. H. , Melzer, A. , Green, B. , Newgrain, K. , Hindell, M. A. , and Carrick, F. N. (1995). Seasonal variation in water flux, field metabolic rate and food consumption of free-ranging koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus). Australian Journal of Zoology 43, 59–68.
CrossRef |

Ellis, W. A. H. , Melzer, A. , Carrick, F. N. , and Hasegawa, M. (2002a). Tree use, diet and home range of the koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) at Blair Athol, central Queensland. Wildlife Research 29, 303–311.
CrossRef |

Ellis, W. A. , Hale, P. T. , and Carrick, F. (2002b). Breeding dynamics of koalas in open woodlands. Wildlife Research 29, 19–25.
CrossRef |

Fox, J. B. , Fox, M. D. , Taylor, J. E. , Jackson, G. P. , Simpson, J. , Higgs, P. , Rebeg, L. , and Avery, R. (1996). Comparison of regeneration following burning, clearing or mineral sand mining at Tomago, NSW: I. Structure and growth of the vegetation. Australian Journal of Ecology 21, 184–199.
CrossRef |

Gill A. M. (1981). Adaptive responses of Australian vascular plant species to fires. In ‘Fire and the Australian Biota’. (Eds A. M. Gill, R. H. Groves and I. R. Noble.) pp. 243–272. (Australian Academy of Science: Canberra.)

Gordon G., McGreevy D. G., and Lawrie B. C. (1990). Koala population turnover and male social interaction. In ‘Biology of the Koala’. (Eds A. K. Lee, K. A. Handasyde and G. D. Sanson.) pp. 189–192. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Hindell, M. A. , and Lee, A. K. (1987). Habitat use and tree preferences of koalas in a mixed eucalypt forest. Australian Wildlife Research 14, 349–360.
CrossRef |

Hindell, M. A. , and Lee, A. K. (1988). Tree use by individual koalas in a natural forest. Australian Wildlife Research 15, 1–7.
CrossRef |

Hindell, M. A. , Handasyde, K. A. , and Lee, A. K. (1985). Tree species selection by free-ranging koala populations in Victoria. Australian Wildlife Research 12, 137–144.
CrossRef |

Knott, T. , Lunney, D. , Coburn, D. , and Callaghan, J. (1998). An ecological history of koala habitat in Port Stephens Shire and the Lower Hunter on the central coast of New South Wales, 1801–1998. Pacific Conservation Biology 4, 354–368.


Logan, M. , and Sanson, G. D. (2002). The association of tooth wear with sociality of free-ranging male koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus Goldfuss). Australian Journal of Zoology 50, 621–626.
CrossRef |

Lunney D., and Matthews A. (1997). The changing roles of State and Local Government in fauna conservation outside nature reserves: a case study of koalas in New South Wales. In ‘Conservation Outside Nature Reserves’. (Eds P. Hale and D. Lamb.) pp. 97–106. (Centre for Conservation Biology, University of Queensland: Brisbane.)

Lunney D., Moon C., and Matthews A. (1996). A 1990 survey of the koala Phascolarctos cinereus population at Iluka in northern New South Wales. In ‘Koalas: Research for Management’. (Ed. G. Gordon.) pp. 102–122. (World Koala Research Inc.: Brisbane.)

Lunney, D. , Phillips, S. , Callaghan, J. , and Coburn, D. (1998). Determining the distribution of koala habitat across a shire as a basis for conservation: a case study from Port Stephens, New South Wales. Pacific Conservation Biology 4, 186–196.


Lunney D., Coburn D., Matthews A., and Moon C. (2001). Community perceptions of koala populations and their management in Port Stephens and Coffs Harbour Local Government Areas, New South Wales. In ‘The Research and Management of Non-urban Koala Populations’. (Eds K. Lyons, A. Melzer, F. Carrick and D. Lamb.) pp. 48–70. (Koala Research Centre of Central Queensland, Central Queensland University: Rockhampton.)

Lunney, D. , O’Neill, L. , Matthews, A. , and Sherwin, W. B. (2002). Modelling mammalian extinction and forecasting recovery: koalas at Iluka (NSW, Australia). Biological Conservation 106, 101–113.
CrossRef |

Lunney, D. , Gresser, S. M. , Mahon, P. S. , and Matthews, A. (2004). Post-fire survival and reproduction of rehabilitated and unburnt koalas. Biological Conservation 120, 567–575.
CrossRef |

Lunney, D. , Gresser, S. , O’Neill, L. E. , Matthews, A. , and Rhodes, J. (2007). The impact of fire and dogs on koalas at Port Stephens, New South Wales, using population viability analysis. Pacific Conservation Biology ,in press


McAlpine, C. A. , Bowen, M. E. , Callaghan, J. G. , Lunney, D. , Rhodes, J. R. , Mitchell, D. L. , Pullar, D. V. , and Possingham, H. (2006a). Testing alternative models for the conservation of koalas in fragmented rural–urban landscapes. Austral Ecology 31, 529–544.
CrossRef |

McAlpine, C. A. , Rhodes, J. R. , Callaghan, J. G. , Bowen, M. E. , Lunney, D. , Mitchell, D. L. , Pullar, P. V. , and Possingham, H. P. (2006b). The importance of forest area and configuration relative to local habitat factors for conserving forest mammals: a case study of koalas in Queensland, Australia. Biological Conservation 132, 153–165.
CrossRef |

Mitchell P. (1990). The home ranges and social activity of koalas – a quantitative analysis. In ‘Biology of the Koala’. (Eds A. K. Lee, K. A. Handasyde and G. D. Sanson.) pp. 171–187. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Mitchell P., and Martin R. (1990). The structure and dynamics of koala populations – French Island in perspective. In ‘Biology of the Koala’. (Eds A. K. Lee, K. A. Handasyde and G. D. Sanson.) pp. 97–108. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Moore, B. D. , and Foley, W. J. (2005). Tree use by koalas in a chemically complex landscape. Nature 435, 488–490.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Moore B. D., Wallis I. R., Marsh K. J., and Foley W. J. (2004). The role of nutrition in the conservation of the marsupial folivores of eucalypt forests. In ‘Conservation of Australia’s Forest Fauna’. 2nd edn. (Ed. D. Lunney.) pp. 549–575. (Royal Zoological Society of NSW: Sydney.)

NSW Rural Fire Service (1998). ‘A State Ablaze: the January 1994 Fires.’ (NSW Rural Fire Service: Sydney.) ISBN 0-7311-0895-7.

Phillips, S. , Callaghan, J. , and Thompson, V. (2000). The tree species preferences of koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) inhabiting forest and woodland communities on Quaternary deposits in the Port Stephens area, New South Wales. Wildlife Research 27, 1–10.
CrossRef |

Port Stephens Council (2004). ‘Port Stephens Council Comprehensive State of the Environment Report.’ (Port Stephens Council: Raymond Terrace.)

Reed P., and Lunney D. (1990). Habitat loss: the key problem for the long-term survival of koalas in New South Wales. In ‘Koala Summit. Managing Koalas in New South Wales’. (Eds D. Lunney, C. A. Urquhart and P. Reed.) pp. 9–31. (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service: Sydney.)

Rhodes, J. R. , McAlpine, C. A. , Lunney, D. , and Possingham, H. P. (2005). A spatially explicit habitat selection model incorporating home range behavior. Ecology 86, 1199–1205.


Rhodes, J. R. , Wiegand, T. , McAlpine, C. A. , Callaghan, J. , Lunney, D. , Bowen, M. , and Possingham, H. P. (2006). Modelling species distributions for improving conservation in semi-urban landscapes: a koala case study. Conservation Biology 20, 449–459.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Sharpe L. L. (1980). Behaviour of the koala, Phascolarctos cinereus (Goldfuss). B.Sc.(Honours) Thesis, Monash University, Melbourne.

Smith A. P. (2004). Koala conservation and habitat requirements in a timber production forest in north-east New South Wales. In ‘Conservation of Australia’s Forest Fauna’. 2nd edn. (Ed. D. Lunney.) pp. 591–611. (Royal Zoological Society of NSW: Sydney.)

Sutherland, E. F. , and Dickman, C. R. (1999). Mechanisms of recovery after fire by rodents in the Australian environment: a review. Wildlife Research 26, 405–419.
CrossRef |

Whelan R. J., Rodgerson L., Dickman C. R., and Sutherland E. F. (2002). Critical life cycles of plants and animals: developing a process-based understanding of population changes in fire-prone landscapes. In ‘Flammable Australia: The Fire Regimes and Biodiversity of a Continent’. (Eds R. A. Bradstock, J. E. Williams and A. M. Gill.) pp. 94–124. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.)

White, N. A. (1999). Ecology of the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) in rural south-east Queensland Australian Wildlife Research 26, 731–744.
CrossRef |

Wilson, B. A. , and Friend, G. R. (1999). Responses of Australian mammals to disturbance: a review. Australian Mammalogy 21, 87–105.



Rent Article (via Deepdyve) Export Citation Cited By (30)