Testing alternative models for the conservation of koalas in fragmented rural–urban landscapes
CLIVE A. MCALPINE,1,2* MICHIALA E. BOWEN,1,2 JOHN G. CALLAGHAN,3 DANIEL LUNNEY,4 JONATHAN R. RHODES,1,2 DAVID L. MITCHELL,4 DAVID V. PULLAR1,2 AND HUGH P. POSZINGHAM2
1Geographical Sciences and Planning, School of Geography, Planning and Architecture, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Qld. 4072, Australia
2The Ecology Centre, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland
3New South Wales Department of Environment and Conservation, Hurstville, New South Wales
4Australian Koala Foundation, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Predicting the various responses of different species to changes in landscape structure is a formidable challenge to landscape ecology. Based on expert knowledge and landscape ecological theory, we develop ﬁve competing a priori models for predicting the presence/absence of the Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) in Noosa Shire, south-east Queensland (Australia). A priori predictions were nested within three levels of ecological organization: in situ (site level) habitat (<1 ha), patch level (100 ha) and landscape level (100–1000 ha). To test the models, Koala surveys and habitat surveys (n = 245) were conducted across the habitat mosaic. After taking into account tree species preferences, the patch and landscape context, and the neighbourhood effect of adjacent present sites, we applied logistic regression and hierarchical partitioning analyses to rank the alternative models and the explanatory variables. The strongest support was for a multilevel model, with Koala presence best predicted by the proportion of the landscape occupied by high quality habitat, the neighbourhood effect, the mean nearest neighbour distance between forest patches, the density of forest patches and the density of sealed roads. When tested against independent data (n = 105) using a receiver operator characteristic curve, the multilevel model performed moderately well. The study is consistent with recent assertions that habitat loss is the major driver of population decline, however, landscape conﬁguration and roads have an important effect that needs to be incorporated into Koala conservation strategies.