Potential ‘Ecological Traps’ of Restored Landscapes: Koalas Phascolarctos cinereus Re-Occupy a Rehabilitated Mine Site
Romane H. Cristescu1,2, Peter B. Banks1,3, Frank N. Carrick2, Céline Frère4
1School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Kensington NSW, Australia,
2Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation, Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland, St Lucia QLD, Australia,
3School of Biological Sciences, The University of Sydney, Camperdown, Sydney NSW, Australia,
4Centre for Ecology and Conservation, The University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall, United Kingdom
With progressively increasing anthropogenic habitat disturbances, restoration of impacted landscapes is becoming a critical element of biodiversity conservation. Evaluation of success in restoration ecology rarely includes faunal components, usually only encompassing abiotic and floral components of the ecosystems. Even when fauna is explicitly included, it is usually only species presence/absence criteria that are considered. If restoration is to have a positive outcome, however, populations in restored habitats should exhibit comparable survival and reproductive rates to populations found in undisturbed surroundings. If a species recolonises restored areas but later experiences decreased fitness, restored areas could become ecological sinks or traps. We investigated this possibility in a case study of koalas Phascolarctos cinereus occupying rehabilitated mining areas on North Stradbroke Island, Australia. Our holistic approach compared rehabilitated and undisturbed areas on the basis of their vegetation characteristics, of koalas’ body condition, roosting trees, diet, as well as predator index. Koalas using rehabilitated areas appeared to be able to access an adequate supply of roosting and fodder trees, were in good condition and had high reproductive output. We did not find any significant differences in predator density between rehabilitated areas and undisturbed surroundings. The results presented in this study showed there was no evidence that the post-mining rehabilitated areas constitute ecological sinks or traps. However, to reach a definitive conclusion as to whether areas rehabilitated post-mining provide at least equivalent habitat to undisturbed locations, additional research could be undertaken to assess foliar nutrient/water/toxin differences and predation risk in rehabilitated areas compared with undisturbed areas. More generally, the evaluation of whether restoration successfully produces a functional ecological community should include criteria on the fitness of faunal populations reoccupying such sites, so as to ensure functioning ecosystems, rather than ecological sinks or traps, are the outcome.