Cyclone Trevor’s damage to Iron Range rainforest in Cape York could last decades, researchers fear

Posted March 31, 2019 07:00:00

Researchers have touched down in the Iron Range rainforest in Queensland’s Cape York to map what they fear is decades of damage wrought by Cyclone Trevor.

Key points:

  • Iron Range is part of the largest closed-canopy rainforest in Cape York
  • Researchers say Cyclone Trevor has decimated habitat and stressed wildlife in the national park
  • The forest is expected to regenerate, although there is a fire risk

The cyclone made landfall on the eastern Cape York coast earlier this month, bringing relentless wind and heavy rain for several days.

“It looks bad at the moment, the trees are down, there are no leaves and it’s a different world,” said ecologist Gabrielle Davidson.

Ms Davidson, who manages a research station in the Iron Range National Park, has been trekking around and assessing the damage for the past week.

“It’s difficult to do because the forests here have been hugely impacted and a track that took me half-an-hour to walk before is four hours now,” she said.

Stressed and hungry wildlife

The Iron Range helps form the largest closed-canopy rainforest in Cape York, which boasts a diverse array of unique wildlife, including the northern cassowary, cuscus, eclectus parrot and the green python.

Ms Davidson said the cyclone had decimated habitats and wildlife was looking stressed.

“[Cassowaries] are coming in around people’s houses and eating what’s basically starvation food for them,” she said.

“They’re being seen a lot more and I’m pretty concerned for them.

“We’ve got all sorts of bats and birds coming around where they can smell food basically.”

Open rainforest canopy increases fire risk

Locals have compared the damage to the Iron Range National Park to the impact Cyclones Yasi and Larry had on the Daintree Rainforest, further south.

Central Queensland University’s Steve Turton, who studied the impact of those two cyclones, said one of the biggest risks to the Iron Range was fire.

“Generally speaking it’s going to start drying out once we get into April, so I think that will be an issue,” Professor Turton said.

“They don’t really want the fire getting into the rainforest areas that will be very dry for some time before they regenerate.

“Working with the traditional owners up there would be a very good way forward for National Parks.

“The scientists could provide some insights into the damage patterns that can feed into that [response].

Long-term recovery possible

Professor Turton said without anymore damaging events like another severe cyclone or fire, the forest should be able to regenerate.

“Any kind of disturbance should not necessarily be seen as a bad thing. It often should be seen as being part of a natural process,” he said.

“Initially though with a loss of canopy you expose it to the sun, it becomes a lot hotter, so what you’ll find is a lot of species that are tolerant of those conditions, they will respond very favourably.

“As time goes on the canopy will close in again and in two years from now you’ll hardly know a cyclone’s been through, that’s our experience with Larry and Yasi.”

Topics: disasters-and-accidents, storm-disaster, rain-forests-and-forest, conservation, cyclones, bushfire, cyclone, lockhart-river-4871

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