Koala research and advice

We provide independent oversight and advice to the NSW Government on koala matters.

Research program plan – koala response to timber harvesting

The NSW Government requested us to deliver independent research to better understand how koalas respond to harvesting in state forests. The request is made under the NSW Koala Strategy (2021-26).

This research will build on our previous koala research program and findings delivered between 2019-22. Research findings are explained below. The research will be funded under the NSW Koala Strategy by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water over three years.

The research program will investigate two key questions:

  • How does koala habitat, including feed tree abundance, foliage biomass, canopy tree species composition and forest structure, respond to varying levels of selective harvesting intensity?
  • How do koala populations respond following selective harvesting at varying levels of intensity?

We made a public call for research proposals to address these questions. Following an evaluation and selection process involving a panel of independent experts, the following projects are being implemented:

  • addressing koala habitat response by exploring harvesting impacts on leaf nutrition and canopy biomass – team led by Western Sydney University in collaboration with researchers from University of Melbourne and NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) – Forest Science Unit
  • addressing koala population response to harvesting at the site scale using two different survey methods and sensors (acoustic song meters and drones with thermal cameras) – this work will involve independent scientists from CSIRO and University of Newcastle in collaboration with NSW DPI – Forest Science Unit and Forestry Corporation of NSW.

More information about the projects and program can be found in the research program plan. Research sites will be located in the upper and lower northeast Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (Coastal IFOA) regions.

We will oversee implementation and reporting for the program, and the sharing and application of new knowledge to inform management.

We will work closely with the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW), Forestry Corporation of NSW and the Department of Primary Industries in designing and delivering the research program. We will also engage the community with research findings.

Expert panel

An expert panel, comprising koala and forestry experts, supports the program to deliver robust and scientifically credible research. The members include:

  • Mr Peter Cochrane (Chair (Assistant Commissioner, Natural Resources Commission)
  • Dr Desley Whisson (Senior Lecturer in Wildlife and Conservation, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University)
  • Dr Alistair Melzer (Adjunct Research Fellow, Koala Research CQ, School of Medical and Applied Sciences, Central Queensland University)
  • Prof Patrick Baker (Professor of Silviculture and Forest Ecology, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne)
  • Dr Louise Pastro (Principal Policy Officer, Conservation Policy and Strategy, Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW))
  • Dr Tim Jessop (Team Leader – Koala Monitoring and Research, Conservation and Restoration Science, Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW)).

Research findings and outcomes

Koala response to timber harvesting (2019-22)

Under the previous NSW Koala Strategy (2018-21), we delivered independent research to better understand how koalas are responding to harvesting in state forests on the NSW north coast.

The research, carried out by eminent scientific researchers from the Australian National University, Western Sydney University, and the Department of Primary Industries Forest Science Unit, assessed koala and habitat responses to selective harvesting in north coast state forests.

This is the most comprehensive research conducted to date in NSW on how koalas and their habitat respond to harvesting. The researchers worked in collaboration to investigate koala movement, occupancy, density, diet and the nutritional quality of koala habitat on north coast state forests.

Overall, the research found selective harvesting did not adversely impact koala density, nor the nutritional quality of koala habitat. This suggests the koala protections and wider landscape protections codified the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (Coastal IFOA) are effectively mitigating the risks from selective harvesting to date at the research sites.

Research into koala diets showed that individual koalas have different dietary preferences, which may be influenced by the available food resources and local conditions. The koalas in the study consumed a range of tree species, although they did show a preference for certain species.

Other research insights include:

  • koala density was higher than anticipated in the surveyed forests and was not reduced by selective harvesting
  • koala density was mostly similar between state forest and national park sites that had similar forest types, and a mix of old growth and regrowth from historical harvesting
  • tree species composition – not tree size – is the key determinant of habitat nutritional quality for koalas and, therefore, the density of koalas that can be supported
  • selective harvesting at the treatment sites did not significantly change canopy tree species composition and, therefore, is not expected to impact on nutritional quality of koala habitat
  • tallowwood (Eucalyptus microcorys) and small-fruited grey gum (E. propinqua) were confirmed to be important diet species, in alignment with the Coastal IFOA koala browse tree list
  • spotted gum (Corymbia maculata) and ironbarks (E. paniculata, E. siderophloia), while not included on the Coastal IFOA browse tree list were browsed by koalas to a considerable extent.

Our report recommends opportunities to improve outcomes for koalas, including reviewing koala browse trees listed under the Coastal IFOA and potential economic impacts of any recommended changes. This review can leverage expert advice provided to the Commission on our work to verify and improve koala prescription maps and underlying models under the Private Native Forestry codes.

The report also recommends improving the knowledge base with ongoing long-term monitoring to evaluate the effectiveness of Coastal IFOA rules to meet their intended outcomes, including those for koalas. This is being implemented as part of our Coastal IFOA monitoring program.

Researchers engaged under our Koala Research Program will publish their research in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

The results on koala occupancy and density in response to harvesting were recently published in the Nature Portfolio of Journals titled Regulated timber harvesting does not reduce koala density in north-east forests of New South Wales.

Koala and habitat response post-wildfires at the research sites

In August 2020, the NSW Forest Monitoring Steering Committee approved funding to investigate the impact of the 2019-20 wildfires on koalas and their habitat. This leveraged existing research from this program in a cost-effective way and provides priority information for decision making and community.

We have now published a summary paper and a research note summarising the researcher findings. Read more here.

Researchers have provided a report detailing their results on koala habitat nutritional quality. The addendum to this report (on page 35) also contains the results from the research on wildfire impacts to koala habitat.

Other oversight and advice on koalas

Coastal IFOA koala browse tree review

The NSW Forest Monitoring Steering Committee with support from experts will review a number of species listed under the Coastal IFOA koala browse tree list. This will ensure the highest value browse species are retained, with support from experts for the upper and lower north-east subregion. This work was recommended by the Commission in its final research report on koala response to timber harvesting.

Read more here.

Private Native Forestry koala mapping updates

The NSW Forest Monitoring Steering Committee is overseeing the validation and improvement to the interim PNF Koala Prescription Maps for each Private Native Forestry region in NSW. The work will independently review models that underpin existing maps and undertake comprehensive on-ground validation.

This is being undertaken with agency scientists and experts who are providing advice on koala habitat, habitat modelling and ground-truthing, including preferred koala browse tree species and their distributions.

Read more here.

Koala and fauna monitoring on coastal state forests

We are independently overseeing a monitoring program with the NSW Forest Steering Committee to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of the Coastal IFOA in achieving its objectives and outcomes.

The program will estimate the trends in occupancy of focal species, such as koalas and other arboreal mammals, hollow-dependant bats, nectivores, ground-dwelling mammals and forest owls.

This work builds on previous monitoring by NSW Forestry Corporation and the NSW Department of Primary Industries, including annual monitoring of koala occupancy in the hinterland forests of northeast NSW since 2015.

Read more here.

Stay tuned

We will be updating this webpage as the project is implemented. If you would like to receive updates regarding this work, you can sign up to our mailing list.