Skyrail Rainforest Foundation (SRF) has provided in excess of $330,000 in research grants for projects which enhance the protection of tropical rainforests for more than a decade. James Cook University PhD student Noel Ruting is one of many who has benefited from the Foundation's support having received $5,000 in funding of his research, aimed at gaining a better understanding of the impact of cyclones on rainforests.
Following Tropical Cyclone Larry in 2006 and Yasi in 2011, Noel examined hyper-disturbed lowland tropical rainforest fragments in the Mission Beach area. After documenting more than 2,500 trees, comprising of almost 200 different species across 29 sites, Noel believes that the rainforest is far more resilient than might be expected. "These were areas of forest which looked completely devastated, " said Noel. "Immediately after these cyclones, almost all of the leaves had been stripped from the trees. The dense forest had been shredded and it was piled with debris. The landscape took on a brown, barren and leafless appearance, similar to a northern hemisphere winter" he added.
Those areas of rainforest could easily have been considered lost and irreparably damaged. In some areas, Noel believes the post-cyclone clean-up and clearing reduced opportunities for natural regrowth and regeneration. "Nevertheless when I looked at the diversity and resilience of these rainforests, the picture was much more encouraging. The richness of species appears not to have been diminished in any way, despite the physical damage done by these two cyclones. Importantly, even smaller disturbed patches of rainforest have shown extraordinary resilience and recovery. This point highlights the need to protect even small parcels of rainforest in the landscape" said Noel.
This project has given Noel a comprehensive overview of the rainforest's response to two severe cyclones just five years apart. "Whilst there were large areas which on the surface appeared to be destroyed after Cyclone Yasi, the species diversity and resilience has remained, and over time those forests will return to their full glory," he said.
SRF director Ken Chapman was pleased the Foundation was able to support such important rainforest research. "We established the Skyrail Rainforest Foundation to support the protection of tropical rainforests worldwide through sound management, understanding and appreciation through research and education," said Dr Chapman. "We are proud that this support has enabled such a positive outcome," he added.
Steve Turton, Professor of Environmental Geography at James Cook University's College of Marine and Environmental Sciences, said "Australia's World Heritage listed Tropical Rainforests, and the unique ecosystems within them, were an important asset to this region. Without research such as Noel's, decisions to redevelop an area impacted by a cyclone might be made in haste, and valuable natural assets lost," said Professor Turton. "Many JCU students have benefited from the Skyrail Rainforest Foundation, which has not only added to our knowledge of tropical rainforests but has also helped advance the careers of young researchers" he added.