Koalas on the Northern Tablelands Literature Review
Alan Ede, Wendy Hawes, John Hunter
University of New England (Australia)
This literature review has been prepared by The Envirofactor for the Northern Tablelands Local Land Services to provide background for the development of a Northern Tablelands Koala Recovery Strategy 2015-2025.
The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is an iconic Australian marsupial that has a fragmented distribution in eastern Australia, closely allied to the presence of a range of preferred food trees, predominantly Eucalyptus species. Since European settlement the koala has suffered significant declines in its distribution and abundance. Koalas have been listed within various State and Commonwealth legislation as vulnerable or endangered at the species or more localised population level. On the Northern Tablelands, koalas are listed as vulnerable under both the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (TSC Act) and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
As identified in the NSW Recovery Plan for the Koala (DECC, 2008), specific information regarding the distribution and abundance koala populations on the Northern Tablelands is notably lacking. Koala sighting records in public databases are few and only a very small number of studies (4) have looked at koala ecology within the project area. There is also only limited agreement in published data regarding preferred koala food and shelter tree species, and no data available on the impact of disease or any other potential threats to Northern Tablelands koala populations. Previous modelling of koala distribution clearly shows the lack of survey effort across large areas of the tablelands which has created a spatial and temporal bias in existing records.
Improving our baseline knowledge of koalas on the Northern Tablelands is therefore critical to the survival of local koala populations in the medium to long-term. A concerted survey and research effort is required to fill knowledge gaps regarding; koala distribution and abundance, population persistence, dispersal abilities, feed/shelter tree selection and threats.
An additional pressure is the prediction of an eastern contraction of koala distribution, as koalas move from the hot dry western plains to cooler higher elevations of the tablelands to escape the impacts of climate change. Increased koala populations on the Northern Tablelands will place greater pressure on existing food/breeding resources. Much better knowledge is urgently required to ensure the landscape can facilitate this movement and support any potential population increase.