Eucalypt plantings on farms benefit woodland birds in south-eastern Australia



Abstract  Most of the original forest and woodland cover on the western slopes of New South Wales and the northern plains of Victoria has been cleared for agriculture (wheat, sheep and cattle) and what remains is highly fragmented and modified by a long history of disturbance. Over the past three decades, native eucalypt trees and shrubs have been planted extensively in a part of this region to provide a range of environmental benefits. Our aim was to determine the extent to which these plantings could improve biological diversity in agricultural landscapes in south-eastern Australia and to identify the variables influencing their effectiveness. We sampled birds at 120 sites encompassing the range of available patch sizes, stand ages, floristic and structural conditions, and habitat attributes for revegetated areas and remnants of native vegetation, and we compared these to nearby paddocks. Eucalypt plantings were found to provide significant improvements in bird population density compared with cleared or sparsely treed paddocks, and mixed eucalypt and shrub plantings had similar bird communities to remnant native forest and woodland in the region. Birds displayed a strong response to patch size, with both larger (≥5–20 ha) eucalypt plantings and larger (≥5–20 ha) remnants having more species and more individuals per unit area than smaller (<5 ha) patches of these vegetation types. Older (10–25 years) plantings had more bird species and individuals than young (<10 years) plantings. The distance from remnant forest and woodland (habitat connectivity) appeared to be an important variable influencing bird species richness in eucalypt plantings. The main differences were due to the greater numbers of species classified as woodland-dependent in the larger-sized patches of plantings and remnants. Eucalypt plantings provided useful habitat for at least 10 declining woodland-dependent species, notably for the Speckled Warbler, Red-capped Robin and Rufous Whistler. The Brown Treecreeper and Dusky Woodswallow appeared to be the species most limited by the extent of remnant forest and woodland in the region. Plantings of all shapes and sizes, especially those larger than 5 ha, have an important role to play in providing habitat for many bird species. Restoration efforts are more likely to be successful if eucalypt plantings are established near existing remnant vegetation.