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.
The astonishing biodiversity of Australia’s rainforest and the country’s dynamic conservation efforts make Queensland an extraordinary laboratory for studying rainforest management and restoration. Recent cyclones have damaged the already diminished rainforest, which makes it the perfect location to study methods for managing these hyperdisturbed areas.
Tropical Rainforests are among the Earth’s most important and diverse ecosystems, yet thousands of acres disappear each day, largely as a result of human activity. Along with the loss tropical rainforest areas due to timber felling 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 World Heritage listed Wet Tropics rainforests of Far North Queensland, where climate models predict a significant rise in local temperatures over the next century that would result in a nearly 50 percent extinction rate among endemic species in affected areas. The world renowned Wet Tropics are often viewed as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ as it recognizes a threat of this magnitude possibly resulting in the loss of over half of all Australian bird species and endemic mammals.Little is known about Australia's rainforest ecosystem dynamics and the ability to restore a rainforest once it has been cleared. This semester study abroad program seeks further understanding of the dynamics of rainforest ecosystems, including potential impacts of global climate change. Our goal is to develop rainforest restoration and management strategies that benefit both ecosystems and human communities, and that can serve as a model for conserving other rainforests.
Student research will focus on the 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 and determining ways 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, notorious 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 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
- Field research skills development includes: GIS, rainforest management strategies, seedling propagation, social science research methods (e.g., interviewing and surveys), transect and patch sampling, data recording and analysis, valuation methods, research design, plant functional trait sampling, 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
- Micro bat use of rainforest fragments
- Flying Fox counts and management planning for species (like Flying Foxes) living in human communities
- Use of restored and natural rainforests by rainforest birds
- Patterns of colonization of restored rainforest by vertebrates
- Using scat and scratch marks to investigate habitat use by tree kangaroos
- Monitoring the Peterson Creek revegetation project
- Evaluating policy instruments that are used to tackle environmental problems
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:
- Participating in community service trips to help local conservation groups and communities plant rainforest trees
- Participating in annual community fauna surveys, such as the crane count (October) and spectacled flying-fox counts (November)
- Attending special lectures on tree kangaroos, spectacled flying fox, rock wallaby, cassowary, and other local wildlife, in conjunction with local conservation groups
- Meeting with Aboriginal elders of the Yidinji, NgadjonJii, and Barbaram tribes to learn more about their culture and their efforts to reclaim their role in land management
- Hosting community dinners and participating in short home stays
- Attending Bush dances, community festivals, visiting the Malanda theatre, socializing at the local pubs, and sporting competitions, such as lawn bowling with Aussies
- Learning how to make and play didgeridoos
The SFS Center for Rainforest Studies lies at the end 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 mature rainforest, which comprises a third of the property’s 153 acres. Sightings of tropical birds, bandicoots, pademelons, primitive musky rat kangaroo, amethystine pythons, and other unique rainforest species are common. The site is alive with the sounds of the rainforest. Students share furnished eight-person cabins with a separate shower and bathroom block. The main building of the field station has a computer laboratory, Internet access, and a student common room. Our kitchen and cook provide nutritious healthy menus to suit all tastes.