Koalas and mine site restoration

February 13, 2013
Koalas and mine site restoration

One 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 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 , at least, in practice that simply isn't so in most cases."

In a study published in the , Cristescu and colleagues note that rehabilitation of degraded and disturbed landscapes, notably those used temporarily for mining, has become critical for counteracting habitat and .

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 – 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 industry and its legislators to include in their rehabilitation success . Only then can we ensure a positive impact of mine rehabilitation on all parts of biodiversity."

Explore further: Orphaned koala becomes first-time mother

Related Stories

Orphaned koala becomes first-time mother

November 14, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- An orphaned baby koala that was flown 1200km to be raised in captivity has recently become a first-time mum, following her successful return to the wild.

Koalas feel the heat

May 4, 2011

The Australian koala is vulnerable to climate change, with the iconic Australian marsupial's habitat likely to be restricted to the highly urbanised areas of eastern and southern Australia under a hotter and drier climate, ...

10 percent of world's major species at threat: report

September 29, 2009

Almost 10 percent of the world's mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish are in danger of extinction due to climate change and other factors, according to an Australian report released Tuesday.

Light shed on koala evolution

February 2, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The world at large knows koalas as cute, cuddly, lovable iconic animals. The evolutionary biologist, on the other hand, will know them as extremely specialized, endangered animals, the evolutionary history ...

Recommended for you

Mating induces sexual inhibition in female jumping spiders

October 18, 2017

After mating for the first time, most females of an Australian jumping spider are unreceptive to courtship by other males, and this sexual inhibition is immediate and often lasts for the rest of their lives, according to ...

Understanding the coevolving web of life as a network

October 18, 2017

Coevolution, which occurs when species interact and adapt to each other, is often studied in the context of pair-wise interactions between mutually beneficial symbiotic partners. But many species have mutualistic interactions ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (5) Feb 13, 2013
One of the guiding principles of rehabilitating disturbed landscapes and mine sites

Is that is creates make work and gives reasons for new taxes, the corollary of which is: When will people stop voting for misguided leftists?

With the tragedy that is Chernobyl as our witness, it is obvious the best thing to do with benighted land is leave it to itself.
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 13, 2013
.....rehabilitating disturbed landscapes and mine sites ....creates make work - gives reasons for new taxes.....
Chernobyl (shows) the best thing to do with benighted land is leave it to itself.

What a shockingly stupid thing to write.

Mining companies don't work for the "gubment". Requiring them to clean up their mess does not involve increased taxes.

Chernobyl does NOT prove your point.

Chernobyl was NOT a mine.

Destruction wrought by mining is immediate and total.

Radioactive contamination has to be close range to that sort of damage.

Mines can span Km above and below ground. Chernobyl consisted of a few buildings in one location.

Mines destroy the surrounding ground to the bedrock and often to miles below, disrupt the water table, turn the land into sterile wastes. There are mine wastes from over 2000 years ago that still can't support life.

Time is proving the worries re Chern. were rooted in fear.

The worries re mining r rooted in centuries of proof.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.