Overseeing an independent research program to better understand koalas' response to harvesting on North Coast state forests
In 2018, the NSW Government asked the Commission to oversee an independent research program to better understand how koalas are responding to regeneration harvesting (or more commonly known as intensive harvesting) in state forests on the NSW North Coast.
This work is being undertaken as part of the NSW Government’s Koala Strategy, which commits $45 million over the next three years to conserve habitat, reduce threats and build new knowledge. The NSW Government will fund this research up to $300,000 over three years.
Research program update
- Annual progress report (February 2020)
Research began in early 2019. However, the 2019/20 wildfire impacted significant areas of the NSW North Coast, including harvest areas in state forests. Due to these extensive fires, the Forestry Corporation of NSW postponed previously planned intensive harvesting operations including at the research sites. Instead, the Forestry Corporation of NSW will now apply a different type of harvesting – called selective harvesting – at the research sites.
In August 2020, the Environment, Energy and Science Koala Strategy Board asked the Commission to refocus the research program on koala response to selective harvesting in the North Coast state forests. Research will build on initial data collection and will be carried out within committed timeframes.
Researchers will also investigate the impact of wildfire on koala habitat and population in the North Coast state forests. This extension work is funded under the NSW Forest Monitoring and Improvement Program.
The Environment, Energy and Science Koala Strategy Board will reconsider the original research question – i.e. intensive harvesting – when the NSW Koala Strategy is reviewed in 2021.
- Revised research program plan (September 2020)
In 2018, the Commission selected three research projects to investigate how koalas are responding to regeneration harvesting in state forests on the NSW North Coast.
The Commission has revised the program to investigate koala response to selective harvesting. The same research projects will continue.
The research teams will lead complementary but distinct projects that will focus on:
- Nutritional value of koala habitat led by researchers at the Australian National University
- Koala diet and its links to habitat quality led by researchers at the Western Sydney University
- Koala population density using acoustic sensors and DNA led by researchers at the Forest Science Unit in the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
The Commission’s revised research program plan explains the projects in more detail.
The Commission will provide a final report of findings to the Premier and the Minister for Environment in mid-2021. In addition to the final report, the Commission will annually report on the progress of the research projects.
Nutritional value of koala habitat led by researchers at the Australian National University
- Researchers have commenced analysis of the nutritional composition of leaf samples. Leaf samples will continue to be collected and analysed until November 2019.
- Researchers are collecting samples from sites with different harvesting prescriptions, species compositions and time since harvest to determine and compare the value of habitats for koalas.
- Field work and leaf analysis is expected to be completed by May 2020.
- Statistical modelling is expected to be completed by July 2020.
Koala diet and its links to habitat quality led by researchers at Western Sydney University
- Researchers are collecting koala scats and reference plant material. This will continue to September 2019.
- DNA extraction of plant material has commenced and will continue to October 2019. Researchers will analyse DNA from scats to compare with plant reference material. This will identify the plant species in the diets of koalas.
- Sample collection and DNA extraction is expected to be completed by October 2019.
- Diet composition and nutritional analysis will continue to the end of 2020.
Koala population density using acoustic sensors and DNA led by researchers at the Forest Science Unit in the NSW Department of Primary Industries
- Researchers are now selecting sites to establish acoustic sensor arrays to record koala calls.
- Calls will be recorded and screened from August 2019. Data will be used to estimate koala density and describe their movements at sites before and after regeneration harvesting, and at other sites 5-10 years after heavy harvesting.
- Pre-harvest field sampling, call screening, genetic analysis and spatial count modelling will be completed by December 2019.
- Post-harvest field sampling, call screening, genetic analysis and spatial count modelling will begin in August 2020.
The Commission has established an expert panel comprising koala and forestry experts to support delivering a robust, and scientifically credible research program.
The expert panel members include:
- Dr Desley Whisson
Senior Lecturer in Wildlife and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University
Dr Whisson is a terrestrial ecologist with 15 years’ experience in conducting applied research on koala ecology and management. She is particularly interested in the spatial ecology of koalas including their habitat use and movements in modified landscapes.
- Dr Alistair Melzer
Adjunct Research Fellow, Koala Research CQ, School of Medical and Applied Sciences and research program leader for koala research, Central Queensland University
Dr Melzer, a field ecologist, has worked on koalas and their habitat for over 20 years. Most recently, he was a member of the Queensland Government Koala Expert Panel, providing advice on the most appropriate actions to reverse declining populations and ensure long-term persistence of south east Queensland’s koalas.
- Professor Patrick Baker
Professor of Silviculture and Forest Ecology, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne
Professor Baker studies forest dynamics and has 25 years of experience working in temperate and tropical forests studying the impacts of past disturbances and climate variability on current structure and composition. Professor Baker was an Australian Research Council Future Fellow from 2012 to 2017 focussing on developing silvicultural systems to make south-eastern Australian forests more resilient to climate change.
Other Koala Strategy research
The NSW Government is also developing a broader research plan to support other priority koala research. The then Office of Environment and Heritage led a research symposium in November 2018 to inform this plan. The Commission will explore opportunities to collaborate through this process.
The Commission 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.
- Media release - Koala research in North Coast State Forests (February 2019)