AboutZoos, Since 2008


Koalas choose dif­fer­ently con­cern­ing reha­bil­i­ta­tion of dis­turbed landscapes

pub­lished 14 Feb­ru­ary 2013 | mod­i­fied 14 Feb­ru­ary 2013
duisburgzoo15One of the guid­ing prin­ci­ples of reha­bil­i­tat­ing dis­turbed land­scapes and mine sites — that if you restore their plant diver­sity, the ani­mals that once lived there will return — does not always hold true, a land­mark Aus­tralian study has found.

Every­one from min­ing com­pa­nies to reg­u­la­tory author­i­ties and restora­tion ecol­o­gists has been work­ing to a ‘build it and they will come’ par­a­digm,” says the lead author of the study, Romane Cristescu, a for­mer PhD stu­dent in the Uni­ver­sity of New South Wales (UNSW) School of Bio­log­i­cal, Earth and Envi­ron­men­tal Sci­ences.

In other words, the gen­eral belief is that if you pro­vide great qual­ity flora, fauna will recolonise. What we found is that for koalas, at least, in prac­tice that sim­ply isn’t so in most cases.

In a study pub­lished online on Feb­ru­ary 12 in the Jour­nal of Applied Ecol­ogy, Cristescu and col­leagues note that reha­bil­i­ta­tion of degraded and dis­turbed land­scapes, notably those used tem­porar­ily for min­ing, has become crit­i­cal for coun­ter­act­ing habi­tat and bio­di­ver­sity loss.

But the suc­cess of reha­bil­i­ta­tion projects has been judged on achiev­ing goals that focus either on non-​living cri­te­ria — such as land­form, sta­bil­ity, ero­sion and water qual­ity — or on restor­ing com­plex plant com­mu­ni­ties.

What we noticed is that these goals usu­ally over­look fauna, with no require­ment to include them in reha­bil­i­ta­tion mon­i­tor­ing,” says Cristescu. This is true even in closely reg­u­lated coun­tries, such as Aus­tralia and North Amer­ica.

The authors decided to test for the first time sci­en­tif­i­cally whether the cri­te­ria for a suc­cess­ful restora­tion of flora trans­lated into suc­cess for fauna. The study site was a sand-​mining oper­a­tion on North Strad­broke Island, where the Sibelco min­ing com­pany, endorsed by the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment, became only the sec­ond Aus­tralian min­ing com­pany to reach an agree­ment with all stake­hold­ers regard­ing reha­bil­i­ta­tion suc­cess cri­te­ria. Sibelco financed the research project to under­stand bet­ter how fauna respond to reha­bil­i­ta­tion.

So we took a fauna species every­one agrees should really come back to mine reha­bil­i­tated areas before we can declare it a suc­cess: the koala,” says Cristescu. “They are vul­ner­a­ble and charis­matic ani­mals, and every­one wants them to ben­e­fit from reha­bil­i­ta­tion. So our ques­tion was sim­ple: if we built a great flora, will koalas come?

We mea­sured flora qual­ity based on the very goals min­ing com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ment are using to mea­sure reha­bil­i­ta­tion suc­cess, then we looked at what koalas them­selves judged to be suc­cess; that is, which reha­bil­i­tated areas they recolonised.”

It turned out that human goals and koala goals were dif­fer­ent. In fact, the most suc­cess­ful areas in terms of flora goals — with a greater than 70% suc­cess — more often than not had no koalas using them. But koalas were using many other reha­bil­i­tated areas rated much lower for flo­ral suc­cess.

We proved that min­ing reha­bil­i­ta­tion can be a suc­cess for both fauna and flora, but that the two are not nec­es­sar­ily con­gru­ent. We need goals to mea­sure whether we are suc­ceed­ing in rebuild­ing a func­tion­ing ecosys­tem, and many ecosys­tem func­tions actu­ally rely on fauna for ser­vices such as pol­li­na­tion and nutri­ent cycling. We hope our work will influ­ence the min­ing indus­try and its leg­is­la­tors to include fauna in their reha­bil­i­ta­tion suc­cess goals. Only then can we ensure a pos­i­tive impact of mine reha­bil­i­ta­tion on all parts of bio­di­ver­sity.”

(Source: UNSW media release, 13.02.2013)
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