Ecological history of the koala and implications for management
Assessments of the conservation status of koalas and trends in their population have been based on mostly unstated false assumptions about their pre-European status and on notions that either they were naturally regulated by their predators, chieﬂy Aborigines and dingoes, or that they somehow ‘self-regulated’ their fecundity. Closer examination of theirecologicalhistorysuggeststhatfrequentmildburningbyAboriginesmaintainedeucalyptforestshavingfewer, mostly healthy trees, fewer young trees, canopies comprising mostly hard and dry leaves with low nutrient content, and, consequently, very few koalas. European explorers did not see them because they were solitary animals occupying large home ranges. After burning was disrupted, koalas responded to increased food resources in dense new growth of eucalypts and in stressed trees continually turning over new foliage. An export skin industry ﬂourished. When their food resources were depleted by clearing or ringbarking of new growth and/or death of declining stands during droughts, koalas crashed back to low levels. Koalas continue to irrupt and decline through much of their range according to changing land management. Wildlife managers should re-assess their status and their management from a clear historical and ecological perspective.