The value of eucalypt plantations for providing fauna habitat in mosaic rural landscapes: how can they help in landscape restoration?
Native eucalypt species have been planted widely for wood production, amenity and conservation purposes. But until recently, little was known about how these plantations may help to meet biodiversity conservation goals. A current Victorian study, supported by the Joint Venture Agroforestry Program and the Natural Heritage Trust, compares eucalypt plantations with cleared pasture and native forest as habitat for fauna at multiple sites (120+ to date, in contrasting landscapes). It also examines potential enhancements such as planting shrubs among the trees.
This and related research shows that eucalypt plantations can provide valuable habitat for many but not all forest birds and mammals. Plantations support slightly fewer forest birds than remnant forest, and substantially more than cleared farmland. Ground-foraging insectivores do well, but bark-foragers are much less common than in native forest. Plantations can help buffer remnant vegetation against adverse effects of stock and invasive native Noisy Miners Manorina melanocephala. Plantations allow some bird species to extend their foraging into new parts of the cleared landscape (e.g. Flame Robin Petroica phoenicea). Noisy Miners and introduced birds are scarce in plantations. Some uncommon native bird species make local use of plantations. Shrubs in experimental plantations appear to attract some additional bird species.
Bats were recorded at all sites, though they presumably roost in hollow-bearing trees elsewhere in the landscape. Arboreal mammals use plantations mainly when they include retained old trees or are adjacent to native forest. Eastern Grey Kangaroos Macropus giganteus commonly shelter in plantations by day.
Various habitat and landscape features contribute to the value and limitations of plantations as habitat for fauna. In some cases habitat values can be enhanced through small changes to the design or management of plantations (e.g. retaining old trees; planting shrubs and rough-barked eucalypt species).