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PLoS One. 2018 Oct 31;13(10):e0205075. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0205075. eCollection 2018.

Passive acoustics and sound recognition provide new insights on status and resilience of an iconic endangered marsupial (koala Phascolarctos cinereus) to timber harvesting.

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Forest Science Unit, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Locked Bag 5123, Parramatta, NSW, Australia.
Science and Engineering Faculty, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia.
EchoEcology, Crescent Head, NSW, Australia.


Retention forestry aims to mitigate impacts of native forestry on biodiversity, but data are limited on its effectiveness for threatened species. We used acoustics to investigate the resilience of a folivorous marsupial, the koala Phascolarctos cinereus, to timber harvesting where a key mitigation practice is landscape exclusion of harvesting. We deployed acoustic recorders at 171 sites to record male bellows (~14,640 hours) for use in occupancy modelling and for comparisons of bellow rate (bellows night-1). Surveys targeted modelled medium-high quality habitat, with sites stratified by time since logging and logging intensity, including old growth as a reference. After scanning recordings with software to identify koala bellows, we found a high probability of detection (~0.45 per night), but this varied with minimum temperature and recorder type. Naïve occupancy was ~ 64% across a broad range of forests, which was at least five times more than expected based on previous surveys using alternative methods. After accounting for imperfect detection, probability of occupancy was influenced by elevation (-ve), cover of important browse trees (+ve), landscape NDVI (+ve) and extent of recent wildfire (-ve, but minor effect). Elevation was the most influential variable, though the relationship was non-linear and low occupancy was most common at tableland elevations (> 1000 m). Neither occupancy nor bellow rate were influenced by timber harvesting intensity, time since harvesting or local landscape extent of harvesting or old growth. Extrapolation of occupancy across modelled habitat indicates that the hinterland forests of north-east NSW support a widespread, though likely low density koala population that is considerably larger than previously estimated. Retention forestry has a significant role to play in mitigating harvesting impacts on biodiversity, including for forest specialists, but localised studies are needed to optimise prescriptions for koalas.

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Conflict of interest statement

We have the following interests: Anna McConville is affiliated to EchoEcology. There are no patents, products in development or marketed products to declare. This does not alter our adherence to all the PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.

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