Wildlife in commercial Eucalyptus plantations in NSW – a long-term study

Key words: timber plantation, biodiversity, fauna, monitoring, remnant vegetation, threatened species

Law B., Chidel M. and Turner G.

Little is known about the biodiversity that occurs in commercial scale eucalypt plantations, how this changes with time or what effect plantations might have on the wildlife occurring in remnant vegetation previously fragmented by farmland. This project, which is being undertaken by Brad Law, Mark Chidel and Graham Turner from the Forest Science Centre, aims to track changes in wildlife in commercial eucalypt plantations on the north coast of NSW. These plantations are grown for saw-logs and they comprise tree species that are locally indigenous. Fauna surveys began at the pre-plantation stage in 1997, when sites were cleared farmland with scattered remnant vegetation. Since then re-surveys have been undertaken when plantations were 1 and 5 years old. The last re-survey was undertaken in spring 2009, coinciding with plantation trees being 11 years old. Fauna surveys have focused on diurnal birds, bats, arboreal mammals and ground mammals. Survey sites are located in different classes of remnant vegetation embedded within plantations including: single remnant trees, small tree patches, larger remnants and riparian strips. Additional sites are also located within the plantations remote from remnant vegetation and native forest adjacent to the plantation.

A mosaic of remnant vegetation and 11 year old Eucalyptus plantation in northern NSW (Photo: Brad Law)

The data are yet to be statistically analysed, but the observations during our field-work suggest that biodiversity levels are increasing from that present prior to plantation establishment. Some interesting observations include an apparent increase in numbers of Squirrel Gliders and Sugar Gliders, a decline in Noisy Miners across most plantation areas, which appears to have coincided with an increase in small insectivorous birds, the use of plantation trees as a nectar resource by three threatened species (Squirrel Glider, Brush-tailed Phascogale and Grey-headed Flying Fox), but little recovery of small mammal numbers, possibly due to the effects of continued cattle grazing, which keeps ground cover to a minimum. Future surveys will continue to track the changing status of wildlife in these plantations to inform issues relating to the ecological sustainability of plantations.

Contact: Brad Law: Forest Science Centre, Industry and Investment NSW, PO Box 100 Beecroft NSW 2119. Email: bradl@sf.nsw.gov.au

Squirrel glider feeding at flowers in a 5 year old Blackbutt Eucalyptus pilularis plantation, northern NSW (Photo: Alison Towerton)

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