An Ecological Reading of the History of the Koala Population of Warrumbungle National Park

Daniel Lunney, Indrie Sonawane, Robert Wheeler, Elizabeth Tasker, Murray Ellis, Martin Predavec, Mike Fleming

Abstract


The severe Wambelong fire in 2013 focussed attention on the koalas of Warrumbungle National Park, and highlighted the lack of detailed study into their populations. Here we examine the history of land use and management within and surrounding the Park and how the koala populations have changed through the decades. Before the dedication of the Park in 1953 there was little koala habitat and, at best, a very low-density koala population in and around what became the Park. The koala population grew through the 1970s and 1980s, and by the mid- to late 1990s the Park was known for its strong koala population before the onset of the millennium drought (2001-2009). However, sightings were rare after the drought. The fire compounded the drought, showing that the Park on its own is too small to be a long-term refuge, particularly in an era of climate change. A regional approach to population management is needed, with the Park and the private land surrounding it both necessary for the survival of the local koala population. We have witnessed impact of a severe fire in 2013 on the koala population, although one best understood through an ecological reading of the historical record.

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