Through the field work exercises and my Directed Research project, I was finally able to be a part of the research instead of just entering data and assisting from the sideline. Being able to walk through the Australian rainforest and see what I had been learning about in the classroom gave me a deeper connection with the area then I could have ever believed to be possible.
— Melissa Stine, University of California, San Diego, Fall '13
The program’s curriculum and strategic research plan address the critical local and regional environmental problem of loss and fragmentation of once extensive rainforests, and examine the effects of the habitat modification on the coastal ecosystem, Aboriginal and local livelihoods, and environmental policies on local and national levels.
SFS staff and students, in collaboration with local landholders and stakeholder organizations, focus on enhancing the condition of tropical rainforests and determining how to regenerate and restore the rainforest of the Atherton Tablelands in the hopes of improving the resilience of these coastal systems.
Students are involved in a diverse range of activities that play a vital role in the health and wellbeing of both the local environment and people. For example, students can partake in:
- A local restoration effort that is internationally ranked as one of the best in Australasia which helps inform restoration efforts around the globe
- Determining the habitat needs of endemic species like the Lumholtz tree-kangaroo, a local marsupial
- Investigating the potential responses and resilience of biotic communities to climate change and major climactic events
- Restoration and sustainable tourism projects lead by local and Aboriginal peoples
- The connection between the cultures and livelihoods of Aboriginal communities and their surrounding environments, including the World Heritage Sites of the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef
- Live in the heart of the rainforest, study ecology and conservation, and explore environmental policies and practices that shape sustainable development in the region
- Camp in Chillagoe and explore the Outback’s caves, rock formations, remnant dry rainforests, and eucalypt savanna
- Enjoy a multi-day excursion to Cape Tribulation and Daintree National Park, home to one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world: hike through lowland rainforests, mangrove forests, and palm forests; and traverse the Daintree River, famous for its crocodiles
- Engage with Mandingalbay Yidinji rangers and explore how their coastal management practices influence the World Heritage Wet Tropics rainforest and the largest coral reef system in the world, the Great Barrier Reef
FIELD RESEARCH, EXERCISES, AND EXCURSIONS
- Lend a hand at the TREAT (Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands Inc.) nursery and reforestation sites to learn about and participate in the most contemporary methods in rainforest restoration
- Explore the countries of local Aboriginal groups, gaining an understanding of indigenous culture and their use and management of natural resources
- Work with local residents and tourists to assess attitudes toward nature and restoration to identify challenges to conservation
- Visit a variety of different ecosystems to learn about the geology and historical biogeography of the Atherton Tablelands, including conducting research in two sites that are part of the longstanding Australian Supersite Research Network
- Learn to identify rainforest plants and assess forest community types across the region
- Study the endemic fauna of Australia and gain an understanding of their ecological services in the tropical rainforest, including learning about how invasive species impact Australian ecosystems
- Gain hands-on experience with rainforest restoration practices, such as propagating seedlings, planting new rainforests, and monitoring restoration plantings
- Study the threat that climate change poses to tropical rainforests and use modeling tools to predict its impact in the Wet Tropics
- Use spatial tools, such as GIS, to assess land use change and habitat use by different species
- Develop field research skills including animal identification and observation techniques, radio tracking, spotlighting, rainforest management strategy assessment, and interview and traditional knowledge gathering
- Practice skills in hypothesis testing, data recording and analysis, research design, scientific writing, and presenting scientific results to a variety of audiences including the local community
SAMPLE DIRECTED RESEARCH PROJECTS
- Working alongside the Mandingalbay Yidinji people to help determine barriers to and opportunities for the development of ecocultural tourism
- Using climate modeling, rainforest corridor plantings, and assessment of forest restoration successes to improve species' resilience
- Studying patterns of colonization of restored rainforest by vertebrates
- Assessing habitat use by yellow-bellied gliders and tree kangaroos
- Assessing nature-based tourism and its role in the Wet Tropics
- Studying long-term effects and recovery of forests from selective logging
GET INVOLVED WITH THE COMMUNITY
The Atherton Tablelands and Wet Tropics have been home to The SFS Center for Rainforest Studies for more than 25 years. SFS is an active and engaged partner with many community organizations including TREAT, Landcare, Tablelands National Park Volunteers, and Tree Kangaroo and Mammal Group. Our research and work has direct policy implications for local decision makers, supports local community efforts, and helps to restore an environment once decimated by anthropogenic activities. Our Center also creates important linkages between with the diverse stakeholders involved in rainforest restoration and management and the development of sustainable communities and industries.
Our students forge strong connections with residents who are passionate and knowledgeable about environmental stewardship. Participating in restoration projects alongside citizen volunteers, students come to understand rainforest ecosystems and management from a multitude of perspectives.
SFS students and staff add significantly to the social fabric of the community by getting involved in community volunteer projects and social activities such as:
- Engaging with Aboriginal elders to learn more about their culture and efforts to reclaim their role in land management
- Helping local reforestation groups and communities plant rainforest trees and monitor how the plantings are doing over decades of restoration efforts
- Participating in community flora and fauna surveys for conservation purposes
- Talking with locals about tourism and sustainable development practices
- Hosting community dinners and participating in overnight homestays with local families
- Attending special lectures, workshops, and celebration days dealing with the local wildlife in conjunction with regional and national conservation groups
- Joining in bush dances and community festivals, visiting the Malanda theatre, and socializing at the local pubs and sporting competitions
The SFS Center for Rainforest Studies lies on the edge of the Atherton Tablelands in the heart of the traditional land of the Yidinji people, not far from the small town of Yungaburra. Protected World Heritage forests and farmland surround rolling hills covered in tropical foliage. Student cabins are nestled within the rainforest, which comprises 97 percent of the property’s 153 acres. The site is alive with the sounds of the rainforest, and sightings of tropical birds, bandicoots, pademelons, musky rat kangaroos, amethystine pythons, and other rainforest species are common. Students share eight-person cabins with separate shower and bathroom facilities. The main building of the field station houses the classroom, dining area, and a common room, while the lab is just a short walk away.