Landscape Ecology

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 415–426 | Cite as

Out on a limb: habitat use of a specialist folivore, the koala, at the edge of its range in a modified semi-arid landscape

  • Andrew G. Smith
  • Clive A. McAlpine
  • Jonathan R. Rhodes
  • Daniel Lunney
  • Leonie Seabrook
  • Greg Baxter
Research Article


Habitat loss and natural catastrophes reduce the resources available to animals. Species can persist if they have access to additional resources and habitats through the processes of landscape complementation and supplementation. In arid and semi-arid ecosystems, where productivity is limited by precipitation, the impact of landscape change and prolonged drought is severe on specialist species whose range boundaries are limited by aridity. We examined the pattern of occurrence by a specialist arboreal folivore, the koala, at the periphery of its biogeographic range, in a semi-arid rangeland landscape. We used hierarchical mixed modelling to examine the effect of landscape change on koala populations and their habitat use during and after a prolonged drought. We found that the tree species and the distance of a site from water courses were the most important determinants for koala presence in these landscapes. Koalas were predominantly detected in riverine habitat along the water courses, which are primary habitat and provide refugia in times of drought and extreme heat. There was a strong positive effect from the interaction between the amount of primary and secondary habitat in the landscape, although individually, the amount of each of these habitats was not important. This shows koalas will persist in more intact landscapes. There was no difference in habitat use between dry and wet years, but we consider that it can take several wet seasons for koalas to expand into habitats away from water courses.


Landscape change Resource use Landscape supplementation Refugia Climate extremes Drought 



We thank the Australian Research Council, the Australian Koala Foundation and South West NRM who funded this study (ARC Linkage Project 0882090). The surveys would not have been possible without the permission from the graziers to survey on their land and we are extremely grateful to them for this and for being hospitable to the field staff. We thank a number of volunteers who helped conduct field surveys. We also thank Lorenzo Cattarino, for helping with R scripts. Finally, we are grateful to two anonymous reviewers and coordinating journal editor who helped us improve the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10980_2013_9846_MOESM1_ESM.docx (120 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 120 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew G. Smith
    • 1
  • Clive A. McAlpine
    • 1
  • Jonathan R. Rhodes
    • 1
  • Daniel Lunney
    • 2
    • 3
  • Leonie Seabrook
    • 1
  • Greg Baxter
    • 1
  1. 1.Landscape Ecology and Conservation Group, School of Geography, Planning & Environmental ManagementThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Office of the Environment and HeritageHurstvilleAustralia
  3. 3.School of Biological Sciences and BiotechnologyMurdoch UniversityMurdochAustralia

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