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Quantifying and predicting mammalian herbivore damage in Tasmanian Eucalypt plantations

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Bulinski, J (1995) Quantifying and predicting mammalian herbivore damage in Tasmanian Eucalypt plantations. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

In Tasmania, the Bennett's wallaby (Macropus nifogriseus rufogriseus),
Tasmanian pademelon (Thylogale billardierii), brush tail possum (Trichosurus
vulpecula) and European rabbit (0ryctolagus cuniculus) browse eucalypt seedlings
growing in forestry plantations. This damage is thought to reduce plantation
productivity by reducing seedling growth, reducing seedling survival and changing
seedling form. Forestry companies attempt to reduce damage by reducing
herbivore populations with 1080 poison. This control strategy, as it is currently
employed, is not without problems. No real data exist relating the severity of
browsing damage to losses in productivity, herbivore abundance or plantation
characteristics. Thus, control tends to be carried out at most plantations without
regard to recouped benefits. Furthermore, the use of 1080 is strongly criticised by
some community groups. Unfortunately existing alternatives are either ineffective
or too costly to use on a large scale.
This study aimed to quantify the spatial distribution effect and cost of browsing
damage; determine relationships between herbivore abundance and damage; and
determine environmental variables important in influencing herbivore abundance
and damage. From 1994 to 1997 data were collected at 35 forestry plantations, 32
planted with Eucalyptus nitens and three with Eucalyptus globulus. Forestry
companies carried out poisoning at 28 of the plantations. Growth and damage
data were collected at planting and then at six and 12 months after planting.
Herbivore abundance was assessed at each plantation over 320 days using scat
plots established at planting. Plantations and adjoining cover habitats were
characterised by measuring environmental variables. At seven of the plantations,
fenced control plots were established at planting (1996). Growth rate, survival and number of leading shoots for these seedlings were compared to unfenced
seedlings which were also monitored for damage.
Damage severity varied between plantations ranging from low (17% of seedlings
damaged at 12 months after planting 'With a mean browse score of 0. 5) to severe
(100% of seedlings damaged at 12 months after planting with a mean browse
score of 4. 7). Damage reduced seedling growth but did not influence seedling
survival. The amount by which growth was reduced was linearly related to
damage severity, but was only reduced significantly when damage exceeded a
critical level. Unfenced seedlings developed more leading shoots than fenced
seedlings at plantations with intermediate levels of damage. Severity of browsing
damage at each plantation was linearly related to cwnulative density of possum
scats. For most herbivore species cumulative scat density at each plantation was
negatively related to frequency of poisoning. A regression model incorporating
possum scat density grass cover and fern cover explained 71% of between-site
variation in damage. A second regression model, incorporating variables that could
be measured prior to planting, explained 52% of between-site variation. Important
variables in this model were the area to perimiter ratio of the plantation, the
proportion of the perimiter that was adjacent to cover habitat, canopy closure in
adjacent cover habitat and the amount of vegetation at ground level in adjacent
cover habitats.
These results can be used to assign meaningful measures of loss to observed
damage and to identify 'acceptable' damage levels. Additionally relationships
between herbivore abundance and damage and plantation characteristics and
damage have potential for use in predicting damage severity at plantations.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
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Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2012 03:00
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:55
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