Research project: The role of eucalypt plantations in biodiversity conservation
- Start date:
- Commonwealth Postgraduate Research Award, Linnean Society of New South Wales, Birds Australia, Ecological Society of Australia, University of Wollongong
Increasing the Australian forest estate through the establishment of native eucalypt plantations has the potential to redress the dramatic decline in biodiversity associated with habitat loss and fragmentation. Eucalypt plantations may mitigate environmental damage associated with past land-clearing by providing habitat and/or dispersal corridors for fauna and flora. Due to the projected expansion of the Australian plantation estate to 3 million ha by 2020 and the potential of planting for trade in biodiversity and carbon credits, there is an urgent need to expand our knowledge of how native fauna use this novel environment.
This study describes the bird communities found in a range of plantation forests, incorporating riparian and non-riparian habitats, and compares them with the communities found in a number of native forests. By comparing the foraging and territorial behaviour of two representative species (the Eastern Yellow Robin and White-browed Scrubwren) in the two habitats, we aim to assess the relative value of plantation habitat.
Riparian strips through plantations were closest in avifauna assemblage to native forest habitats, with an overlap of 75% in species composition. Riparian plantations supported a similar number of forest- and woodland-dependent species to forest habitats, although many open-country species were also present. Dryland plantations were more homogenous in species composition, reflecting homogeneity in habitat characteristics. They supported approximately half of the species found in native forests, but the majority were common, wide-ranging habitat generalists and/or omnivores.
The two target species, the Eastern Yellow Robin and the White-browed Scrubwren, did not show any major differences in behaviour between habitat types, and territory size, shape and perimeter-to-area ratio did not differ significantly among forest and plantation habitats. These results suggest that plantation habitats provide sufficient resources such as perches and open ground to fulfill the foraging requirements, although birds preferred to use patches of remnant vegetation in plantation patches. The habitat value of plantations could be improved by improved microhabitat management.
Dr Richard Major , Principal Research Scientist