Tree use by koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) after fire in remnant coastal forest
Alison MatthewsA,B, Daniel LunneyA, Shaan GresserA and Wendy MaitzA
ADepartment of Environment and Climate Change (NSW), PO Box 1967, Hurstville, NSW 2220, Australia.
The aim of this study was to examine the effects of fire on resource use by a population of koalas in remnant coastal forest. Fifty-five koalas were monitored regularly by radio-tracking for up to 35 months. The attributes of each tree in which the koala was sighted were recorded, giving a total of 8390 records. Analyses were undertaken on a range of ecological information. Regeneration of the forest began immediately following the fires and within three months koalas were seen among the epicormic growth. From a total 4631 trees used by koalas, 3247 (70%) were burnt. Observations of koalas feeding included 53% in burnt trees. Koalas changed trees frequently; individual trees were used once only on 3555 occasions (42% of all observations). Of all the trees used, 95% were used by only one collared koala; no trees were used by more than three koalas. Swamp mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta) was the tree species most frequently used by koalas, particularly at night and by breeding females. Koalas preferred trees of larger diameter (>30 cm) and used significantly taller trees during summer. This study has shown that resource depletion from intense wildfire is short-term for koalas because they utilise burnt trees within months of the fire for both food and shelter.