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Changes in the distribution of reports of the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) after 16 years of local conservation initiatives at Gunnedah, north-west New South Wales, Australia

Murray V. EllisA,B, Susan G. RhindA,C,F, Martin SmithD and Daniel LunneyB,E

A Department of Environment and Conservation, PO Box 2111, Dubbo, NSW 2830, Australia.

B Office of Environment and Heritage, PO Box 1967, Hurstville, NSW, 2220 Australia.

C Present address: School of Biological Sciences, University of Wollongong, NSW 2500, Australia.

D NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Office of Environment and Heritage, Coffs Harbour, NSW 2450, Australia.

E School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia.

F Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT

In the early 1990s the koala became the mascot for a revegetation program to control salinity on agricultural land around Gunnedah in New South Wales, and a snapshot of the koala’s distribution in the shire was collected at that time, mainly via a mail survey. After the success of tree plantings in the 1990s, the koala population of the Liverpool Plains became a focus of increasing local conservation efforts, as well as research to explain koala population dynamics. This included a repeat mail survey conducted in 2006, which enabled the comparison of the reported distributions to be undertaken. These two citizen science surveys had different response rates but both produced extensive data sets. By 2006, koalas were reported from a wider extent than in 1990, particularly to the north and east of the town, and in more developed agricultural areas, but with highest densities in areas with more than 25% wooded vegetation. In 1990, koalas were reported mostly from locations that were surrounded by more than 40% wooded vegetation with the core of the distribution being on the basalt hills south of the town of Gunnedah. Koalas were also reported with increased relative frequency in the town,and this formed the core of the reported sightings at that time. There were still no reports from many of the vegetated hilly margins of the shire. The observed changes in the pattern of reporting reflects the actual distribution of koalas intersected with the likelihood of observation and the willingness of people to report koalas, and also identify the areas that may be under-sampled to determine the true habitat breath of koalas in the area.