Our Australian rainforests tell us more about how the richness of life on Earth today was born, spread and flourished than almost any other rainforests still surviving in the world today. The rainforests of Madagascar and New Caledonia, too, harbor these extraordinary concentrations of ancient lineages of plants and animals — primitive, restricted and mostly threatened with extinction. They are the windows into life’s past, the present and its future.
Rainforests dominated this Australian continent during what geologists call the Early Tertiary (Paleocene to mid Eocene). As the continent dried and browned throughout the Miocene, relicts of that green ‘Emerald’ era survived only in very small, hospitable and isolated fire-proof refuges that were warm and wet enough to sustain them. Protecting these palaeoclimatic refuges for their ancient, ancestral lineages is critical. We know where most of them are, like jewels in an archipelago of island forests on Australia’s east coast. Our major part of our work has been to understand and protect them, as well buffered and connected as possible, so they can thrive and evolve as they should. Springbrook, where our flagship restoration project is located, is the wet heartland of the entire subtropical Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. Its potential resilience as a subtropical refugium is as great as there is.
Rare Cloud Forests
Amongst some of the wettest areas on Earth are rare places where forests are so often shrouded in cloud they truly are “cloud forests”. Scientists describe them as having persistent, frequent or seasonal ground-level cloud cover. Clouds condense on leaves and drip to saturate soils below. Sometimes this is called ‘horizontal’ rain that can be as much as 60% of normal annual falls.
They are rare, and biologically and hydrologically unique. Mosses abound, so much so they are often also called “moss forests”. Biodiversity and endemism (rarity) is high. Many species are only found in these forests and new species are continually being discovered. Many are threatened with extinction.
Only about 10–12 percent of the world’s rainforests are cloud forests, so they are rare. Over half (55%) have already been lost. These losses are widespread and in several countries, severe. Of those remaining, most are highly fragmented. Very few areas are left with continuous, full canopy cover. Those at Springbrook were mostly cleared last century. Most of the world’s cloud forests have no protection. Globally, only 14.7% (0.38 million sq km) do. Climate change is compounding stresses. Decreases in cloud-cover frequency attributable to climate change are already being detected in South East Asia and Africa. Increases in temperatures of up to 3°C and significant changes in rainfall are predicted for the world’s cloud forests by 2050. A priority for our flagship project at Springbrook is restoring and protecting these very rare cloud forests so they can have lasting protection and recognition within the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area.
The ‘Lungs of the Earth’
The tropical rainforests in South and Central America, West and Central Africa and the regions to our north are the greatest irreplaceable troves of biodiversity and stores of carbon on Earth. They have an unparalleled role in regulating our climate and water supplies. They merited being called the ‘Lungs of the Earth’ because they contribute about 36% of net carbon exchange between the atmosphere and plants, though oceans do play a greater role. They were once vast. They are much diminished and damaged today. The latest assessments published in November 2013 show forest loss in increasing, not decreasing. Brazil is stemming losses but these gains are offset by increased clearing elsewhere, particularly so in Indonesia and Malaysia. Their urgent protection is in the interests of all humanity, for the well being of all species including ours depends on it.
Australian Rainforest Conservation Society Inc PO Box 2111, Milton QLD 4064, Australia
telephone: 61 7 3368 1318 email: email@example.com