Vegetation of a piece of Australia’s prime rainforest

Australia's prime rainforest estate at Cape Tribulation.

Australia’s prime rainforest estate at Cape Tribulation.

Having started this blog almost 6 years ago and spending some years learning the flora of the region, I have had the great previlege to examine closer, in a scientific way, the flora of a patch of Australia’s prime rainforest estate. And there is probably few places that can match the Daintree to have such an opportunity.

These research culminated in a recently published paper [download pdf] in the free-to-read open access Biodiversity Data Journal, an apt place to publish forest plot and species diversity data.

The lowland rainforests at the Daintree and areas around Cape Tribulation have been touted as representing the prime development of rainforest in Australia, because of their complex structure. Alluding to this complexity, these forests have locally been called “Complex Mesophyll Vine Forest”.

When I first got the opportunity to work at the Daintree in earnest in 2013, there was already a 0.95 hectare (now extended to 1-ha) long-term rainforest monitoring plot in existence. This plot was set up in the year 2000 and so has been monitored for over 15 years.

Although other tropical countries have much larger monitoring plots, this plot is Australia’s largest lowland rainforest plot. Strategically, this plot is also situated under the canopy crane, and is in fact the only place in Australia with a canopy crane to study rainforest, and one of a few in the world.

Such is the significance of this infrastructure that a research station, the Daintree Rainforest Observatory, was built to administer research activities on the canopy crane. Not surprising, there has been quite a wonderful list of ecological and biological research conducted from the crane.

The Daintree Rainforest Observatory "rebooted" in 2014. Now furnished with space for over 40 people.

The Daintree Rainforest Observatory “rebooted” in 2014. Now furnished with space for over 40 people.

I was tasked to set up another 1-ha plot to complement the one already in existence, and this involved going out into the forest, tagging, marking, identifying and measuring the trunk diameters of these trees.

It was gruelling and bloody (literally) work – a kind of intensive outdoor gardening which required the pruning of spiny vines to create access paths and to lay out 20x20m grids. And it was certainly not possible to complete without the help of many kind volunteers.

Working in the canopy crane

Working in the canopy crane

But I was in a kind of “plant heaven”, having an opportunity to make close friends with the plants in such a beautiful rainforest region, and not just the trees.

Later between 2014-2015, I when back to lay out a few small plots in the understorey to have a closer look at the abundance of shrubs and tree saplings, and also to do an overall flora survey of the 42-ha research station. While such an ad hoc survey may not be very precise in terms of the number of the species present at the site, we did find some 385 native plant species at the site which is certainly a good representation of the diversity of the forests in the Daintree region.

In terms of the plot, the tree diversity of ~80 species per ha was not particularly high by world standards, but what was interesting was the number of stems exceeding 10cm diameter (>800 stems per ha). This is higher than most places with permanent plots, and could be a result of regeneration from cyclones that occasionally visit these lands.

I hope that this work will form a firm ecological basis for other hypothesis-driven studies, and also for further studies looking at the rainforest vegetation of the Wet Tropics of Australia.

About David Tng

I am David Tng, a hedonistic botanizer who pursues plants with a fervour. I chase the opportunity to delve into various aspects of the study of plants. I have spent untold hours staring at mosses and allied plants, taking picture of pollen, culturing orchids in clean cabinets, counting tree rings, monitoring plant flowering times, etc. I am currently engrossed in the study of plant ecology (a grand excuse to see 'anything I can). Sometimes I think of myself as a shadow taxonomist, a sentimental ecologist, and a spiritual environmentalist - but at the very root of it all, a "plant whisperer"!
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