[ASC-media] Australia ripe for expansion of rainforests

Karla Davies Karla.Davies at rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au
Sun Aug 24 15:16:00 PDT 2014


Dear ASC, it would be much appreciated if you could please distribute the attached media releases to your subscribers. Thank you. Best regards, Karla
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Media release

Monday, 25 August 2014



Australia ripe for expansion of rainforests



A world-first study has revealed Australian rainforest species are far more resilient than once thought and given the right conditions, they could spread across the landscape.

Dr Maurizio Rossetto, Principal Research Scientist, Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust said to ensure our rainforests retain their ability to adapt to changing conditions, it is important we conserve and restore not only rainforests, but also the surrounding vegetation.

"Our study revealed rainforest species retain the ability to respond relatively rapidly to changing conditions but this ability has been eroded by recent clearing and forest modification," Dr Rossetto said.

"Until now, the general assumption has been that all rainforest species are restricted to specific habitats and geographic locations, but our research has shown there is not always a clear cut line.  A lot of rainforest plants enter dryer forest types such as those dominated by eucalypts.

"At present, rainforests are largely restricted to parts of the East Coast and Tropical North, but given the right circumstances they can survive and thrive in many other parts of Australia."

An important innovation of this study was to investigate the combined distribution of all Australian rainforest trees and vines (well over 2,300 species) rather than interpreting the distribution of artifically defined plant communities. These distributional patterns were then related to environmental, ecological and evolutionary features.

Dr Rossetto explained we know from fossil records that rainforest vegetation dominated the Australian continent up until 30 million years ago.

"Subsequent changes to earth's geographic features and climate increased aridity and caused a massive contraction in the extent of rainforest," he said.

"Over the last 30 million years increasing aridity interacted with topography, soil characteristics and increasing fire - resulting in the distribution of rainforest we see today.   This transition from continental dominance to more localised distribution, resulted from extreme evolutionary filtering that made the Australian rainforest species that are left, stronger and more resilient.

"Our research findings give us reason to be positive about the future of Australian rainforests, especially if we protect them and maintain the conditions that favour their spread."

The world-first study was conducted by Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust scientists Dr Robert Kooyman, Dr Maurizio Rossetto, Dr Herve' Sauquet from the University of Paris and Dr Shawn Laffan from the University of New South Wales.

Media Contact:  Karla Davies, karla.davies at rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au<mailto:karla.davies at rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au>, mobile:  0427 482 477





Media release

Monday, 25 August 2014



RAINFOREST SEED DISPERSAL BREAKTHROUGH



Research into rainforest seed distribution of northern NSW species has led to a recommendation for large fruited species to be planted more widely because they are vulnerable to extinction.

The Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney study concentrated on the World Heritage listed Nightcap National Park where seed dispersal is limited by the absence of birds capable of ingesting large fruit.

Dr Maurizio Rossetto, Principal Research Scientist at the Garden said as we learn more about the importance of birds and animals in dispersing large fruited species, these species that produce large fruit will probably need alternative management actions.

"This might include the reintroduction of plants into suitable habitat or in the future, we might even consider targeted studies assessing the reintroduction of suitably large birds that can disperse them," Dr Rossetto said.

"When rainforest fruits are small enough for birds like the Wompoo pigeon to swallow them whole and leave the seeds untouched, the seeds can be dispersed far and wide.  However, some rainforest fruits in northern NSW are too large and their natural dispersers are now extinct.

"A tree requires a means of dispersal as seedlings need to grow far enough away from their parent to take hold and prosper, let alone start a new population.

"For example the blue quandong (Elaecoarpus grandis) is generally widespread in the area because its fleshy fruits are very attractive to birds like the Wompoo. In contrast, the Minyon quandong (Elaeocarpus sedentarius) has a fruit similar in size but it is not fleshy, as a result birds are not interested in it and only two localised populations of less than 100 individuals remain.

"The hairy quandong (Elaeocarpus williamsianus) is rare because all remaining populations are represented by genetically identical clones. To produce viable seeds this species needs more than one genetic individual, so each and every one of the remaining trees is sterile."

Dr Rossetto said that to overcome the problem with Elaeocarpus williamsianus, individuals from each population are being raised and grown together and soon the potential for sexual reproduction will be re-established.

"We can manually help these trees reproduce but in the long-term a disperser is required to carry new viable genetic material away from its parents," he said.

"In contrast to northern NSW rainforests, the Australian Wet Tropics in Far North Queensland has a range of dispersers including many fruit doves, tree kangaroos and of course the cassowary.  Research we've undertaken shows that, in the wet tropics, fruit size is not correlated with rarity, gene flow or species distribution. The ice ages and the associated increase in aridity over the past 200,000 to 300,000 years have conspired to contract rainforests, and for world heritage rainforests in northern NSW, this has been accompanied by extinctions of fauna capable of dispersing some of our unique species," Dr Rossetto said.

Learn more about this study on YouTube and see footage of rainforests in the Nightcap National Park by film maker Matthew Keighery - visit:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OlXD3E-eLY&list=UUErbZJ0kcUawDFZxHSNW75A

Media Contact:  Karla Davies, karla.davies at rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au<mailto:karla.davies at rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au>, 0427 482 477

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