Spatiotemporal dynamics of habitat use by koalas: the checkerboard model

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Animal movement patterns and use of space depend upon food and nonfood resources, as well as conspecific and heterospecific interactions, but models of habitat use often neglect to examine multiple factors and rarely include marsupials. We studied habitat use in an Australian population of koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) over a 6-year period in order to determine how koalas navigate their environment and partition limited patchy food and nonfood resources. Tree selection among koalas appears to be mediated by folar chemistry, but nonfood tree selection exerts a major impact on home range use due to thermoregulatory constraints. Koalas moved on a daily basis, during both day and night, but daytime resting site was not necessarily in the same location as nighttime feeding site. Koalas had substantial home range overlap in the near absence of resource sharing with less than 1% of trees located in areas of overlap used by multiple koalas. We suggest that koala spatiotemporal distribution and habitat use are probably based upon a community structure of individuals, with a checkerboard model best describing overlap in home range area but not in resource use. Nonfood refugia and social networks should be incorporated into models of animal range and habitat use.

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