An ecological history of Koala habitat in Port Stephens Shire and the Lower Hunter on the Central Coast of New South Wales, 1801 – 1998
Tiffany Knott, 1,2 Daniel Lunney, 1 Dionne Coburn 1, and John Callaghan 2
1 NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 1967, Hurstville, New South Wales, Australia
2 Australian Koala Foundation, G.P.O. Box 9899, Brisbane, QLD Australia
This paper describes the vegetation of Port Stephens shire and environs at the time of European settlement, defines the sequence of vegetation clearance since that time, and estimates the extent to which the pre-European vegetation represented Koala habitat. A study of historical records, newspapers, documents and reports was undertaken in conjunction with interviews with long-standing Port Stephens residents. The historical records show that koalas were widespread and common during early settlement. Reconstruction of the original vegetation was based on descriptions by early explorers and settlers from the early 1800s, when settlement commenced. Most of the land on either side of the Hunter River was vegetated by Shrubby Tall Open Forest intermingling with either Open Swamp Forest, or Vine-Fern Closed Forest, or cedar brush. The first area to be settled was the alluvial land on the banks of the rivers were the soil was fertile and well-watered. Settlement proceeded rapidly in the western part of the shire from the early 1800s, concentrating on the Lower Hunter and Williams Rivers, but not progressing to the east until much later (mid to late 1800s). the historical record was sufficiently detailed t allow reconstruction of Koala habitat distribution at the time of settlement. Ecological history is now emerging as a discipline that has far more than curiosity value. It can provide the essential framework for conserving and restoring those landscapes exploited in the first century of European settlement.