Designing food and habitat trees for urban koalas: tree height, foliage palatability and clonal propagation of Eucalyptus kabiana
Truman, SJ, McMahon, TV, Grant, EL, Walton, DA, Theilemann, PH, McKinnon, AJ & Wallace, HM 2017, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, vol. 27, pp. 196-202.
Common koala food trees, such as Eucalyptus tereticornis, E. camaldulensis and Corymbia intermedia, are unsuited for planting in urban areas as they are extremely tall and are regarded by many as hazardous. Eucalyptus kabiana, a threatened eucalypt species found naturally only on the Glasshouse Mountains, are much shorter trees. They are highly amenable to vegetative propagation and their foliage is palatable to koalas, highlighting the species’ great potential as food and habitat trees that can create movement corridors for koalas in urban settings.
The current study investigated the height, foliage palatability and clonal propagation of E. kabiana in cultivation and compared them with those of its related species, E. tereticornis. After six years of cultivation, E. kabiana reached 3-5 m in height, which was much shorter than other known koala food trees that reach heights of 8-14 m. All eight koalas living inside an enclosure were seen consuming E. kabiana foliage, and six of the eight koalas showed a strong preference for E. kabiana over E. tereticornis when both trees were present. Over a 14-week period, the number of cuttings, biomass of cuttings and the percentage of cuttings that formed roots were similar between the two species, indicating their similarly high amenability to clonal propagation of E. kabiana to E. tereticornis. Overall, the findings demonstrated the similarity in foliage palatability and amenability to vegetative propagation between E. kabiana and E. tereticornis. These similarities are attributed to the taxonomic relatedness of E. kabiana to E. tereticornis and E. camaldulensis, two extensively-propagated and known prime koala food species.
These traits possessed by E. kabiana highlight the great potential of the species to be planted in urban areas, such as in wildlife corridors, parklands and urban gardens to help bridge patches of remnant koala habitat that have been fragmented by development. Moreover, the replacement of larger trees with E. kabiana near school buildings, playgrounds and sports fields can minimise hazards while providing habitat for koalas and environmental education opportunities for children.
Summarised by Cherie Chan
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