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Land offset research

Transport and Main Roads has commissioned the University of the Sunshine Coast to undertake research to find out how we can better counter-balance impacts to koala and grey-headed flying fox.

The research will run for 5 years and will tell us what factors need to be considered when designing land offsets.

A land offset is an area of land that is set aside to counter-balance environmental impacts from a project or activity. Land offsets traditionally involve either planting trees on cleared land, setting aside (protecting) already treed blocks of land, planting trees in corridors to provide connections between isolated blocks of land, or a combination of these. There is no research to date however, to tell us which approach to land offsets results in the best long-term outcome for the sustainability of koala populations.

Maya, a Koala Scat Detection Dog.The study will be led by expert ecologists and researchers Dr Romane Cristescu and Dr Celine Frere from the University of the Sunshine Coast and will involve the use of conservation dogs who will be specifically trained to detect koalas and koala scats (droppings).

While the focus will be on koalas, the research will also be of benefit to the grey-headed flying fox who use the same habitat as koalas for nesting.

A copy of the Offset Research Proposal is available to download from the list of Environmental documents.

Frequently asked questions

What is a land based offset?

A land offset is a specific area of land that is set aside to counter-balance environmental impacts from a project or activity. A land offset can be:

  • land that is already vegetated
  • land that is cleared, or partially cleared, but will be planted out as part of the offset arrangement
  • a combination of the above.

What is the research about?

The research aims to develop a set of criteria that will allow us to evaluate different characteristics of available land offsets, to determine which land offset provides the best long-term outcome for koalas. 

The research will also add to the existing body of knowledge about koala health and disease and therefore contribute more broadly to an understanding of how we can better protect koala populations in South East Queensland. At a local level, the research will contribute valuable information about the density and health of koalas in the Gympie region, of which little research has been undertaken to date.

Why is this research necessary?

Each land parcel identified for a land offset will have unique characteristics that influence how well it might support a koala population.

Amongst other things, these characteristics can include:

  • a low, medium or high level of predation risk
  • a percentage of habitat trees and food trees (both food and habitat trees are important for koalas)
  • vegetation maturity
  • good or poor connectivity to other habitats
  • low, medium or high exposure to stress factors such as interaction with humans and domestic animals.

When there are a number of different land parcels available for an offset, it is important that we are able to compare these to determine which one provides the best long-term outcome for koalas. To date however, there has been limited research to help us understand which characteristics or combination of characteristics are the most important and will best support a healthy population of koalas. 

Although many land offset proposals involve planting cleared land to provide connections between fragmented habitat, there is also limited research to date that has shown if the use of the corridors helps maintain genetic diversity. A recent study on Stradbroke Island for example, has shown that planting trees on cleared land will not necessarily result in the re-colonisation of that land by koalas. Environmental practitioners have also raised concerns about the value of setting aside treed blocks of land, if those properties are fragmented (by roads, farms, houses or other infrastructure) as habitat fragmentation can limit food and shelter, impact on breeding opportunities, increase predation and lead to a decline in koala health and resilience to disease.

These concerns and the current lack of evidence as to the benefits of using one option over another, highlight an urgent need to undertake further research to find out which land parcel characteristics are best for supporting sustainable koala populations.

How is this research different from other research currently being carried out into koala habitat, health and population density?

This research is unique because it looks at koala health and population characteristics within the context of land offsets. Whilst there is a growing body of knowledge about koala movements, general health and disease, and the impacts of construction, the Section C land offset research is focussed on identifying the most suitable land parcels required to sustain koala populations.

Who is conducting the research?

The research is being undertaken by an expert team at the University of the Sunshine Coast. This team will be led by Dr Celine Frere and Dr Romane Cristescu.

Where will the research be undertaken?

The research will focus on areas in and around Gympie, particularly areas close to the Bruce Highway – Cooroy to Curra corridor. It will look at both fragmented and rehabilitated habitats.

How will the findings be used?

The findings will be used to inform the department’s future land based offsets proposals, including proposals for koala land offsets for Section D: Woondum to Curra, of the Bruce Highway - Cooroy to Curra project.

The department will also publish the findings broadly so that anyone can use the research to help with their conservation efforts or mitigate impacts to koalas and other wildlife. This includes developers who can use the research to design more successful offsets, researchers, academics and anybody else with an interest in conservation.

What innovative tools will be used to undertake the research?

As part of the Section C Koala and Grey-headed flying fox research program, the department will fund training for two koala detection dogs. The dogs will be trained to help the study team to locate koalas and koala scats (droppings).

What is a koala detection dog?

A koala detection dog is a dog that has been professionally trained to detect koalas or koala scats (droppings).  Recent research using a scat detection dog found the dog to be 150% more accurate and 20 times faster than human surveys.

What else are you doing to mitigate impacts to local wildlife?

The department has a detailed Environmental Management Plan for the project. This plan includes processes that must be followed to minimise impacts to wildlife during construction. 

Some examples of these processes include:

  • using specialised fauna spotters that will attend the construction site to identify potential koalas, possums or other animals that live in trees, and only removing trees after the animals have vacated

  • sequential clearing of habitat to minimise stress for wildlife and enable animals to move away from cleared areas.

Independent environmental specialists will be employed to relocate wildlife that may be directly impacted by construction activities, including aquatic species found in creeks and dams.

The department will also install koala proof fauna fencing, fauna furniture (such as habitat logs) and fauna crossings under the highway where required, to allow animals to safely pass through the road corridor without any interaction with traffic after the road has been built. 

How will the research benefit the grey-headed flying fox?

Both the koala and grey-headed flying fox use similar habitat for foraging and breeding and do not directly compete (koalas use the foliage while the flying fox rely on the flowers and fruits). This means the research into koala habitat and recommendations for offsets will also be beneficial for the grey-headed flying fox.

Last updated
01 August 2019