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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Bad taste forest plan

The Mercury: Bad taste forest plan [28nov05]

ANIMALS could be encouraged to avoid future forest coupes if their taste was less appealing, researchers say.

Methods to deter animals from Tasmania's eucalypt plantations are being developed as the use of the highly controversial 1080 poison is phased out on public land.

Measures being considered are using trees bred for browsing-damage resistance, no heavy fertilisation, planting cover crops and, as extra protection, applying wallaby repellent.

Tasmanian researcher Julianne O'Reilly-Wapstra unveiled the latest research into non-lethal 1080 alternatives at the Australasian Wildlife Management Society conference in Hobart last week.

She told the conference there was no single strategy that could easily replace 1080.

She said a non-lethal alternative, an integrated pest management approach that addressed both the trees' and the plantations' characteristics, appeared the most likely way forward.

The conference heard that some varieties of eucalyptus contained more of the chemical sideroxylonal than others, and that the more sideroxylonal a tree had the more resistant it was to browsing.

Breeding trees to contain more sideroxylonal and using them in plantations could help make them less appetising to Tasmania's browsing animals, which include wallabies and possums.

Dr O'Reilly-Wapstra, from the University of Tasmania and the Sustainable Production Forestry Co-operative Research Centre, said her research also showed that the time-honoured practice of fertilising young trees before they were planted in the field to get them off to a flying start had a direct impact on making them more desirable to browsing animals.

She said fertilising increased the nitrogen, and increased nitrogen made them more palatable.

Enough fertiliser could even counteract a tree's natural browsing resistance, making it more susceptible than less resistant species.

Dr O'Reilly-Wapstra outlined how the planting of cover crops could also play a crucial role in protecting young trees from being eaten.

She said studies showed plantations planted in bracken fern suffered decreased browsing, with the common fern proving not only to be unpalatable but also a physical barrier.

She said plantations planted in areas of palatable grass were more heavily browsed, with the animals effectively being led to the seedlings, whereas unpalatable cover crops prevented this.

A similar result was also seen for seedlings planted with a cover crop of unpalatable bitter lupins, with the bonus that the trees planted with bitter lupin cover were almost half as tall again after 12 weeks as those planted without the lupin cover, possibly due to the need to compete with the lupins for light.

Dr O'Reilly-Wapstra said trials of repellents showed that WR-1 resulted in a significant reduction in browsing over a 10-week period.

She said the research showed an integrated pest management approach could be the non-lethal alternative to 1080.



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