PROGRAM DESCRIPTIONThe School for Field Studies (SFS) Tropical Rainforest Studies study abroad program in Queensland, Australia, provides exciting opportunities for students to study and work hands-on in rainforest management and restoration in the country’s tropical rainforest.
Northeastern Queensland’s ancient rainforests preserve millions of years of evolutionary history, though unfortunately, these repositories have been greatly affected by habitat loss, fragmentation, and climate change. The full eastern seaboard of northern Australia once supported extensive rainforests, but logging, mining, and agricultural production over the past two centuries have destroyed and degraded rainforest habitats, disrupting the patterns and processes that keep these forests vibrant. Today, over much of the area, only fragments of the original forests remain.
Along with the loss and fragmentation of tropical rainforest areas due to logging, plantation forestry, and farming, global climate change is very likely contributing to accelerating the loss of plant and animal species. The potentially devastating effect of climate change is playing out in the rainforests of Far North Queensland, where climate models predict a significant rise in local temperatures over the next century. The world-renowned Wet Tropics are often viewed as the “canary in the coal mine,” as a threat of this magnitude could possibly result in the loss of more than half of all Australian bird species and endemic mammals.
Australia continues to be a global front-runner in recognizing the significance of ecosystem services and restoration ecology practices to maintain and ensure healthy rainforests. The country has halted rainforest destruction and established effective protected areas, and is confronting the threat of forest species loss by climate change more aggressively than most tropical countries. Still, the integrity and survival of these ancient, unique, and majestic rainforests hinge upon developing management solutions that consider large-scale and localized impacts on biodiversity, including global climate change, while also providing conditions for economic and social sustainability for the local community.
The program curriculum and research agenda address a critical local and regional environmental problem—loss and fragmentation of once extensive rainforests—and examine environmental policies related to the issue 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, as well as determining how to regenerate and restore the rainforest on the Atherton Tablelands.Students learn field research techniques as they collect data on:
- Potential responses to global climate change
- Habitat use and animal behaviors
- Resilience to cyclonic events, land-use
- Local resident involvement in restoration projects
- Cost-effective and ecologically beneficial methods of restoration
FIELD RESEARCH, LECTURES, AND EXERCISES
- Camp in the Outback and explore caves, rock formations, remnant dry rainforests, and eucalypt savannah
Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforests
- Walk through lowland rainforests, giant sedges with peppermint stick insects, mangrove forests, and palm forests
- Traverse the Daintree River, famous for its crocodiles
- Visit the canopy tower at the Daintree Environment Centre; sample and examine an array of forest types across the landscape
- Lend a hand at the TREAT (Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands Inc.) nursery
- Learn about the geology and historical geography of the Atherton Tablelands
- Assess local residents’ and tourists’ attitudes toward nature and restoration
- Assess seedling recruitment of restored tropical rainforest at revegetation sites
- Examine growth and mortality of tropical rainforest species
- Sample plant functional traits and their effect on drought, frost, and cyclone resistance
- Examine fauna in endangered plant communities
- Develop field research skills including: GIS; rainforest management strategies; seedling propagation; social science research methods; data recording and analysis; research design; restoration techniques; and climate modeling
SAMPLE DIRECTED RESEARCH
- Using plant functional traits to predict drought and cyclone resistance
- Climate modeling and rainforest corridor plantings and restoration
- Examining patterns of colonization of restored rainforest by vertebrates
- Using scats and scratch marks to investigate habitat use by tree kangaroos
- Determining carbon sequestration values of rainforest restoration
- Evaluating policy instruments that are used to tackle environmental problems
- Assessing nature-based tourism and its role in the Wet Tropics
- Studying long-term effects and recovery of forest from selective logging
COMMUNITY FOCUSConservation, resource use, and rainforest restoration are extremely important to local farmers, resource managers, and concerned community groups. With the results of our research, we offer advice to local decision-makers and create links between our staff and the stakeholders involved in rainforest restoration and management.
SFS students get involved in community volunteer projects and social activities such as:
- Helping local conservation groups and communities plant rainforest trees
- Participating in community fauna surveys
- Attending special lectures on tree kangaroos, spectacled flying fox, rock wallaby, cassowary, and other local wildlife in conjunction with local conservation groups
- Hosting community dinners and participating in short homestays
- Attending bush dances and community festivals, visiting the Malanda theatre, and socializing at the local pubs and sporting competitions, such as lawn bowling with Aussies
- Meeting with Aboriginal elders of the Yidinji and Ngadjon Jii tribes to learn more about their culture and efforts to reclaim their role in land management
- Learning how to make and play didgeridoos
The Center lies on the edge of the Atherton Tablelands in the heart of the traditional land of the Yidinji people. Protected World Heritage forests and farmland surround the rolling hills covered in tropical foliage. Student cabins are nestled within the rainforest, which comprises the majority of the property’s 153 acres. Sightings of tropical birds, bandicoots, pademelons, musky rat kangaroos, amethystine pythons, and other unique rainforest species are common. The site is alive with the sounds of the rainforest. Students share eight-person cabins with separate shower and bathroom blocks. The main building of the field station houses the classroom, dining area, and a common room.