Directed Research was the most challenging thing that I have ever undertaken, but it is a significant personal accomplishment. I feel better prepared as a burgeoning biologist, seeking to study life and ensure its conservation for generations to come.
— Daniel Erickson, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Fall '15
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 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, particularly the upland remnant forests threatened by climate change and the riparian forests that play such an important role in the health of downstream ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef.
Students also work with several indigenous groups to explore the cultures and livelihoods of Aboriginal communities, current and historical natural resource management by these groups, and the connection of these communities to their surrounding, changing environments.
Students are involved in a diverse range of activities that play a vital role in monitoring and preserving the health and wellbeing of the local environment and people. For example, students conduct research and partake in:
- A local restoration effort that is internationally ranked as one of the best in Australasia, and which helps inform restoration efforts around the globe
- Determining the habitat needs of endemic species such as Lumholtz's 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 led 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
- Spend a day on a Great Barrier Reef island and explore rainforest, reef, and coastal zone issues
- Camp in Chillagoe and explore the Outback’s caves, rock formations, remnant dry rainforests, and eucalypt savanna
- Enjoy a multiday 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; boat the Daintree River, famous for its crocodiles; and visit the canopy tower at the Daintree Discovery Centre
- 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
- 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 cultures and their use and management of natural resources
- Visit a variety of different ecosystems to learn about the ecology, geology, and historical biogeography of the Atherton Tablelands, including conducting research in two sites that are part of the longstanding Australian Supersite Research Network
- Study the endemic flora and fauna of Australia and gain an understanding of their ecological services in the tropical rainforest, including learning about how invasive species impact Australian ecosystems
- 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
- Work alongside indigenous people to help determine barriers to and opportunities for the development of ecocultural tourism
- Use climate modeling, rainforest corridor plantings, and assessment of forest restoration successes to improve species' resilience
- Study patterns of colonization of restored rainforest by vertebrates such as yellow-bellied gliders and tree kangaroos
- Use plant functional traits to predict drought and cyclone resistance
- Study long-term effects and recovery of forests from selective logging
- Assess the ecological values of secondary forests
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 provides scientific data and has direct policy implications for local decision makers. It also creates important linkages between our Center and the diverse stakeholders involved with 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 local perspective.
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 reforestation efforts
- Participating in community flora and fauna surveys for conservation purposes
- Hosting community dinners and participating in short homestays
- Attending special lectures, workshops, and celebration days dealing with the local wildlife in conjunction with regional and national conservation groups
- Attending 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.