Caring for koala woodlands

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Words by: Dr Kay Weltz, CEC Conservation Project Manager

In recent decades manna gum woodlands suffered dramatic declines due to inappropriate fire regimes and high Koala densities. Intense browsing on stressed trees led to severe defoliation and numerous tree deaths, further increasing food competition and stress upon remaining trees. CEC has been working with Traditional Owners, land holders, and government agencies to improve the way these woodlands are managed – regaining a healthy balance and ensuring these highly biodiverse woodlands can not only survive but thrive in the future.

Monitoring vital signs is important for understanding the health of any living thing. CEC has been keeping a ‘finger on the pulse’ of these woodlands for some years now. This includes conducting scientific surveys of the koala population across 15 transects and recording tree health data including tree circumference, percentage foliage cover, defoliation, and dead or declining trees. The results are being analyzed to determine current Koala population density per hectare and tree health.

Thanks to the unusually dry autumn weather on the Cape, conducting the Koala surveys was quite enjoyable, as opposed to spending the day staring up into the rain. Despite their knack for blending in, the Koalas occasionally seemed to pose for the camera like this beautiful healthy male.

“Being out in the woodlands was a wonderful experience. While there are numbers of dead trees they are providing important nesting sites for a range of species and we were pleased to see signs of recovery in a number of older trees, some very healthy looking Koalas, and plenty of recruitment of young trees.” Dr Kay Weltz.

The weather has also been ideal for our ecological burning program and our ecologists worked in collaboration with the Country Fire Authority and local volunteer firefighters to gently burn patches through an important woodland habitat.

“The burn was a great success. The site had a dense shrub storey which reduces the biodiversity, and the fire burned this well, without affecting the canopy at all. We’ll be interested to see the natural regeneration of native grasses and herbs like Bulbine Lilies and Chocolate Lilies in the springtime – this is a site that should support species like the threatened Leafy Greenhood orchid, so we’ll especially look out for that.” – Shayne Neal

The outcomes of these annual burns are closely monitored, and this information is proving invaluable as we work with our partners to understand the ideal fire regime for this ecosystem.