The FNQ Rainforest SuperSite builds on more than 40 years of observations and research monitoring the physical and biological status of the rainforests of far north Queensland (FNQ). This includes ecosystem monitoring, carbon and water balance experiments, in stream water quantity and quality measurements and OzFlux energy, carbon and water monitoring sites.

The rainforests of FNQ occupy less than 0.2% of Australia’s landmass, yet support more than 10% of its flora, 36% of its mammals and 48% of its birds. The last remnants of the rainforests which formerly covered most of the continent, these globally significant World Heritage communities are also a repository for many ancestral lineages of the iconic species of Australia today, including the kangaroos and the eucalypts.

Significant environmental clines (altitude, temperature, rainfall) exist over short distances in the region. This enables the monitoring of multiple parameters across a broad range of environments possible within the compact footprint of the FNQ Rainforest SuperSite.

The documentary "Second Dawn" follows an acoustic monitoring experiment carried out at the Cape Tribulation node of the FNQ Rainforest SuperSite by researchers from Queensland University of Technology during the 2012 total eclipse of the sun

The FNQ Rainforest SuperSite is divided structurally into two transects, each based around an intensive study site node: the lowland rainforest based in the Daintree rainforest near Cape Tribulation and the upland rainforest based around the Robson Creek.

Key research questions

  • How are the biota (in particular locally endemic species) changing in form, frequency and distribution and what are the drivers for this?
  • Does the vegetation represent a stable structure (overstorey versus understory dynamics) or has climate change affected it?
  • Which taxa of organisms are the most sensitive to local climate change and how can these be assembled into an accurate biodiversity monitoring tool?
  • What are the fundamental vertical and lateral energy, carbon, water and nutrient stocks and flows in the tropical forests of north Queensland?
  • How are these stocks and flows responding to past management and climate change and how are they likely to respond in the future?
  • How important is the connectivity between these ecosystems for hydrology, faunal movement and as refugia under conditions of past and future climate change?

Comparison Research Sites

TERN Australian Long Term Ecological Research Network

The LTERN Tropical Rainforest Plot Networks has a 25 ha plot situated adjacent to the Robson Creek node of the FNQ Rainforest SuperSite. There are a number of LTERN rainforest plots within 100 km of both FNQR SuperSite nodes.

The initial aim of these rainforest plots was to understand natural forest dynamics in the absence of logging disturbance. Current questions being addressed include how forests recover from landscape scale disturbance events such as cyclones and disease outbreaks and discerning what can be inferred about impacts of climate change on tree growth and species composition by studying altitudinal and latitudinal variation. Data will be available on the LTERN Data Portal.

TERN AusCover activities at the FNQ Rainforest SuperSite

AusCover has run airborne LiDAR and hyperspectral and ground LiDAR campaigns at Robson Creek with ground calibration including SLATS star transects, leaf sampling, tree structure and LAI measures. Phenocams are installed on the flux towers to Integrate flux measurements and phenology to understand the impacts of climate change on Australian landscapes.

AusCover data is available from the AusCover Visualisation Portal and will also be available from the TERN Data Discovery Portal.

Slideshare presentation: Phenocam Network: Australian Phenology Product Validation: Phenocam Network (2014) K. Davies, M. Liddell, N. Weiand, C. Macfarlane, J. Byrne, V. R. des Dios, M. Boer, C. Maeir, N. Boulain, J. Cleverly, D. Eamus, G. Koerber and W. S. Meyer.

TERN eMAST activities at the FNQ Rainforest SuperSite

Plant ecophysiological measurements are being collected across a number of the TERN SuperSites including Calperum by Owen Atkin's team (ANU) in a collaboration with TERN's eMAST facility. The aim is to look at ecosystem hydrology, net CO2 exchange and primary productivity in wet/dry and winter/summer.

Slideshare presentation: Plant ecophysiological measurements at TERN SuperSites. 2013. O. Atkin, K. Bloomfield, L. Weerasinghe.

TERN OzFlux at the FNQ Rainforest SuperSite

OzFlux maintains the flux tower instrumentation that continuously measures exchanges of carbon dioxide, water vapour and energy between the terrestrial ecosystem and atmosphere.

Flux data is available from the OzFlux data portal.

CosmOz Soil Moisture Sensor - Robson Creek

Continuous soil-moisture measurements are collected by cosmic ray soil moisture sensors at Robson Creek node of the FNQ Rainforest SuperSite. These sensors are operated by CSIRO and the Australian CosmOz network which is aligned with the international COSMOS (Cosmic-ray Soil Moisture Observing System) network. These sensors detect fast neutrons released when water interacts with cosmic rays originating from outer space and provide average soil moisture over an area of about 30 ha to a depth of up to 40 cm. Each system comprises a data logger, neutron detector, tipping bucket rain gauge and three surface moisture probes with data logged every 60 minutes. CosmOz data can be accessed from the CSIRO data portal.

CosmOz sensor an example of the soil moisture data output.

Postgraduate Projects and Post-docs associated with the FNQ Rainforest SuperSite

Honours students:

  • Casey Cox (James Cook University) – The Interaction between Lianas and Trees in Lowland Rainforest: A First Time Canopy Survey.
  • Genevieve Buckton (James Cook University) – Comparing the Water-use Strategies of Lianas and Trees in a lowland tropical rainforest

Masters Students:

  • Emily Morshuis (Imperial College London) - Investigating site occupancy and detectability of rainforest birds across fragmented and interior forest habitats.
  • Montegue Neate-Clegg (Imperial College London) – How do the number and types of forest edge affect rain forest bird communities in Queensland?
  • Nick Rockett (James Cook University) – Stormflow generation in a rainforest.

PhD Students:

  • Kaylene Bransgrove (James Cook University) – Plants and endophytes: sensitive to drought?
  • Rebecca Wilson (Macquarie University) – What drives isoprene emissions in the tropics?

Postdoctoral fellows:

  • Dr Alexander Cheesman, (Dr Lucas Cernusak). Global Change: Rainforest responses to experimental drought.
  • Dr Yoko Ishida, (A/Prof Susan Laurance). Global Change: Rainforest responses to experimental drought.
  • Dr Natalia Restrepo, (Prof Alfredo Huete), University of Technology Sydney. Integrating remote sensing, landscape flux measurements, and phenology to understand the impacts of climate change on Australian landscapes.

Dr Alex Cheesman (on right) being interviewed by a Swiss TV crew (Photo P. Byrnes)

Dr Yoko Ishida and volunteer Louise Jessen (from Denmark) working on soil pit samples (Photo P. Byrnes)

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