This project will act as an integrating focus within the rainforest theme to strategically target research gaps and thereby
increase our understanding of the drivers of rainforest biodiversity. We will generate high resolution maps and landscape
scale estimates of temporal trends in the condition of biodiversity and environmental changes.
The project consists of four subprojects:
A. Monitoring: Tasks include a microsensor network, standardised vertebrate surveys, habitat structure monitoring and data
harvesting from other projects.
A comprehensive review of regional literature followed by extensive stakeholder consultation identified long-term monitoring
data as the most important knowledge gap in the region (Welbergen et al. 2011). This sub-project is aimed at maintaining
and significantly improving a regional-scale, long-term environmental monitoring program that provides biodiversity and environmental
data that has a demonstrated value to a wide range of users including the research community, regional/state/national management
agencies and conservation policy development, and national / international bioinformatic infrastructure initiatives (e.g.
ALA, TERN). Data collected and maintained here will provide the primary input for the other sub-projects described below
with flow-on inputs to many of the other proposed projects across the rainforest node. These data will include but not
be limited to:
1. Regional microclimate sensor network at more than 30 sites established under MTSRF that are strategically placed across
elevational and latitudinal gradients in the region.
o Replace and upgrade existing microclimate stations (now defunct/worn out)
o Establish standardised microclimate logging stations in new sites in gaps in environmental coverage, identified climatic
refugia, peripheral habitat isolates and increased coverage of the rainforest edge habitats (e.g. wet sclerophyll). Data:
temperature (air, soil, microhabitats), humidity, soil moisture, cloud interception.
2. Standardised vertebrate surveys across all long-term sites (>30) including:
o 2-4 complete surveys per year for three years with 6 replicated sampling points within each site and including standardised
surveys of: birds, reptiles, spotlighting (mammals and other nocturnal fauna) and microhylid frogs, with potential to add
specific other groups dependent on student projects.
o These surveys follow well-established and extensively published methodologies within the CTBCC (e.g. Williams et al. Ecology
3. Habitat structure monitoring will be continued and improved at all monitoring sites both directly by this project and
via site-based collaboration with other projects including rainforest dynamics project (Project 10 - Laurance) and plant
genetics (Project 9 -Crayn).
4. Link to Project 14: potential monitoring of vegetation structure and thermal properties using UAV technology to capture
aerial photos, multispectral remote sensing, Lidar vegetation structure, thermal imagery of habitat and fauna, cyclone damage
and canopy condition.
5. Additional monitoring data will be harvested across the node for increased regional and taxonomic coverage and baseline
data improvements via links and data exchange with Projects 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 18, 20 and 25.
B. Climate change vulnerability and adaptation: Includes the production of downscaled regional climate projections, projected
changes in species distribution models, composite biodiversity maps, identification and mapping of climate refugia, predictive
models of impacts on biodiversity including extreme events.
Climate change is arguably the single largest threat to biodiversity in Australia and the unique biodiversity of the Wet
Tropics rainforests is recognised as one of the most threatened ecosystems globally (IPCC 4th AR). This subproject will
build on previous and existing research to provide cutting-edge predictions on climate change impacts, vulnerability assessment
and adaptation options for rainforest biodiversity. We will link closely with the National Climate Change Adaptation Research
Network to ensure that outputs, tools and approaches are distributed across this network for maximum national and regional
benefit and outcomes. Specific objectives and collaborative links include:
1. Produce and make available downscaled regional climate projections using eight Global Climate Models across multiple
(at least 3) emission scenarios at 10 year time steps from 1970-2080 for more than 50 bioclimatic variables;
2. Projected changes, including uncertainty estimates, in species distribution models and composite biodiversity maps for
the majority of rainforest vertebrates, 500+ species of invertebrates, major vegetation types and some key ecosystem processes
(baseline data for these analyses were collected under MTSRF and ongoing projects within the CTBCC);
3. Identify and map climatic refugia (extension of previous MTSRF work that mapped landscape-scale temperature refugia by
Shoo et al. 2010a, 2010b). This analysis will expand previous work to include finer scale microhabitat refugia and also increase
the generality of the analyses by examining moisture refugia and dry season drought events that have been shown to have
significant impacts on biodiversity (Williams & Middleton 2008, Middleton & Williams in review).
4. Produce predictive impact models on biodiversity that explicitely include a consideration of extreme events rather than
just environmental means/averages. Project will link closely with the extreme climate events project (Project 16 – Welbergen)
to incorporate the impacts of changes in the frequency, intensity, duration and extent of extreme events, such as heat waves
and droughts, as a major component of assessing relative vulnerability and adaptation actions;
5. Project will closely collaborate with Project 15 (Phillips, Llewelyn) examining the potential for useful local adaptation
to climate changeextremes in isolated populations. This link explores the potential to utilise existing adaptive potential
as a means to increase species resilience to climate change.
6. Other external links:
• NCCARF Refugia project (National) - proposed
• NCCARF Terrestrial Biodiversity Research Network
• Northern Biodiversity NERP Hub
• AEDA Hub – Restoration project and Future Fellowship (Wintle) examining demographic modelling and climate change.
7. Incorporate IPCC 5th Assessment Report climate models and scenarios into all above analyses, once they become available.
C. Synthesis, analysis and integration: Determinants of biodiversity: Includes mapping of almost all rainforest vertebrates
and 200+ species of invertebrates, identify key monitoring locations, examining the relationships between biodiversity and
vegetation and landscape structure.
An understanding of the drivers of biodiversity in the region is crucial to predicting impacts from a variety of threats
and ensuring effective conservation planning and management that aims to maintain a resilient landscape. We will use data
collected in subproject A in combination with our existing extensive vertebrate and invertebrate database to examine the
drivers of biodiversity in the region and to provide the resources and knowledge to make this useful to stakeholders. Specific
objectives will include, but not be limited to:
1. Mapping of almost all rainforest vertebrates and >500 species of invertebrates (distribution and abundance) with emphasis
on threatened species;
2. Identify key locations and taxa where we have long-term count data and/or high frequency of repeat count surveys over
time periods that have encompassed important environmental change. We will undertake statistical power analyses to evaluate
condition and trends of species (e.g., range shifts, change in population size);
3. Analyses will also inform the design of our ongoing monitoring program (subproject A) to maximise the detection of change
in a cost-effective manner.
4. Comprehensive habitat/vegetation type vulnerability assessment;
5. Examine a range of environmental and evolutionary drivers of biodiversity to provide the basic scientific underpinnings
for evidence-based policy and management in the region including paleostability of habitat; seasonal habitat and climatic
stability, relationships to ecosystem processes such as net primary productivity, habitat structure and heterogeneity, species
and habitat compositional turnover and evolutionary biology.
6. Examine relationships between biodiversity and vegetation and landscape structure (vegetation type and structure, habitat
extent, connectivity etc.)
D. Status, trends and future projections: Includes Producing a spatial and temporal resources tool that allows web-based
query of all the above datasets.
No practical measure currently exists to evaluate trends in biodiversity values at the ‘whole-of-region’ scale in near real-time
on a regular, repeatable and affordable basis (WTMA Research Strategy 2010-2014). We will generate high resolution maps
and landscape scale estimates of temporal trends in the condition of biodiversity and environmental changes. This will be
the major vehicle for synthesizing, integrating and communicating data from all projects. This project will make use of extensive
computing power represented by the collaboration between the CTBCC and the James Cook University eResearch group and High
Performance Computing Facility. Specific objectives:
1. Produce and make publicly available a spatial and temporal resources tool that allows web-based query of all the above
datasets based on a user-defined spatial area that will return all predicted and observed data within the query area for
climate (past, current and future projections), habitat, species (predicted and observed), biodiversity values, terrain,
ecosystem processes and, where available data is site-based, the tool could query the temporal patterns in the data (e.g.
changes in abundance of a species) with “approaching real-time” updates (expected bi-annual upload of all new biodiversity
and environmental data with temporal resolution dependent on the specific data stream, example quarterly for the standardised
2. Automatic upload, synthesis and visualisation in JCU eResearch group (Tropical Data Hub) including time series examination
3. Automated upload via Tropical Data Hub onto National (ALA, TERN, NPEI) and international (GBIF) data infrastructure.
This means that as data is entered into our system from the monitoring program and other projects, it will be uploaded
and available via national and international data portals;
4. Future forecasting of trends and forecasts via combination of modelling and workshopping to conduct future horizon scanning.
Once established, these bioinformatic tools could form the basis for UNESCO, and Queensland and Australian government reporting
on the state of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, and could easily be utilized more generally across other ecosystems