Ongoing development of the Interactive Key to Australian Rainforest Plants
Project Leader: Prof Darren Crayn, ATH
Having previously developed the comprehensive Interactive Key to Australian Rainforest Plants, a world first for a Wet Tropical rainforest, this project focused this year on training informed members of the Wet Tropics community in plant identification skills (including weed and orchid identification) and the use of the Interactive Key to Australian Rainforest Plants. A draft of the Introduction to the Rainforest Key training materials has been reviewed by the workshop development team, and improvements to the layout and content have been made. The final draft of the Introduction to the Rainforest Key module is complete, and will be presented with the beta-test version of the Rainforest Key when it becomes available. Preparation of the Advanced use of the Rainforest Key and Weed Identification modules is well advanced. Workshops are planned for delivery in Cairns, Mareeba, Atherton, Paluma and Townsville. Additionally, Commonwealth funding (Environment Research Facilities Project Transition Funding) has been received to deliver these workshops ‘On Country’ to Wet Tropics rangers as part of their Natural Resource Management Cultural and Land Management training programs including Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Rangers and ‘Working On Country/Indigenous Protected Area rangers from Mandingalbay Yidinyi, GirringunAboriginal Corporation, Jabalbina Aboriginal Organisation and the Central Wet Tropics Institute for Country and Culture Aboriginal Corporation. These four organisations represent all 18 Traditional Owner groups in the Wet Tropics bioregion.
Biodiversity monitoring for climate change
Project Leader: Prof Steve Williams, JCU
The extensive field data collection funded through this project has included:
- Microclimate data collected from a region-wide network of 25 weather stations for the period 2006-2010. These data are being used to develop more realistic estimates of microclimate exposure for the region, and to identify cool landscape refugia and major microhabitat features that buffer exposure to extreme temperatures.
- The addition of another 917 standard surveys and approximately 55,000 individual records to the vertebrate fauna dataset. These data have been used to evaluate vulnerability or resilience of species to extinction, evaluate the biodiversity values of climate change refugia, and improve niche models.
- Invertebrate data has contributed to status and trends of insect diversity (MTSRF Project 1.2.1d) and has provided the foundations for several PhD projects. We also identify key data sets that will be useful for the detecting change in the status of species in the future.
Surveys of rainforest birds in Cape York and central Queensland
Project Leader: Prof Steve Williams, JCU
MTSRF-funded researchers have substantially extended the baseline dataset on rainforest bird diversity and abundance in the Australian Wet Tropics, to include almost the full altitudinal and latitudinal gradient of rainforests in northeastern Australia. Eight separate expeditions surveyed sites from sea level up to the highest peaks in the McIlwraith and Iron Ranges (Cape York), and in the Clarke and Conway Ranges (central Queensland), making 4483 individual records of 163 species. Preliminary analyses indicate that this surveying effort has been sufficient to capture a snapshot of the patterns of diversity and abundance of rainforest bird fauna across the altitudinal gradient of both regions. These data are an invaluable baseline that will enable analysis of the influence of climate, and climate change, on rainforest bird community structure, and will contribute to DSEWPaC’s implementation of the EPBC Act..
A prototype Wet Tropics report card
Project Leader: Dr James Butler, CSIRO
MTSRF-funded researchers from CSIRO have worked closely with the Wet Tropics Management Authority and Terrain NRM to develop a prototype report card for the status and trends of biodiversity, soils and landscapes in the Wet Tropics. Preliminary estimates of the present status and condition of these environmental assets were made based on expert opinion and long term datasets, enabling priorities for natural resource management actions to be further identified both at the catchment and subregional scale. Despite considerable advances towards conservation of natural resources over the past few decades, these results show that the Wet Tropics region is still under pressure, and policy responses to date have been insufficient to halt a general decline in condition. Analysis of the condition indicators for biodiversity suggests that the overall score for the region is ‘good’, though it is clear that fragmentation of native vegetation, weeds and feral animals remain problematic. Urban sprawl and intensification of use of previously cleared land are putting increasing pressure on natural and semi-natural areas, particularly in the Mulgrave catchment. The report card is a response to the need for long-term, consistent assessment of status and trends in the Wet Tropics, and it should inform the policies, plans and activities of a wide range of organisations, both public and private. This is the first step towards long-term, ecologically meaningful reporting and monitoring of the status and trends of the Wet Tropics region’s natural assets.
Increased understanding of beetle abundance and biodiversity patterns in the Wet Tropics
Project Leader: Prof Nigel Stork, UniMelb
Beetles are highly speciose and play important ecological roles. Increasing our understanding of variations in their abundance and diversity across the Wet Tropics is important in estimating the resilience of these ecosystems to environmental change, including climate change. While flight intercept trap data indicate that beetle abundance generally increases with altitude in the Wet Tropics (probably driven by increases in abundance of beetle taxa associated with leaf litter), abundance within six beetle families examined to species level showed the opposite trend (ie, abundanceof these species decreased with altitude). Ordination of species-level data for these six families suggests that the lower-altitude fauna is just as distinct as the upland fauna. While many of the more abundant species have significant modal altitudes, most of them appear to have at least a natural range of at least 900 m (equivalent to 4.5°C natural temperature range if we assume that the temperature changes by 0.5°C every 100 m in altitude). These data have contributed significantly to other MTSRF projects and at least 17 research publications to date.
This report card presents the results and recommendations of the Wet Tropics based project 'Status and trends of biodiversity and ecosystem services: State of the Environment reporting and gap filling' (MTSRF Project 1.2.1(c)). Presented here is a prototype indicator framework for the biodiversity, soils and landscape assets of the Wet Tropics, and preliminary results for their present condition based on expert opinion and the most recent available data. For each of these natural assets, the current status and trends are assessed, and priorities for natural resource management actions are identified. The report card also highlights information gaps, and makes recommendations for how these gaps should be filled.