The 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.OVERVIEW
For thousands of years, the tropical rainforests of Far North Queensland, Australia, have been home to Aboriginal groups that play a vital role in co-managing the World Heritage Wet Tropics. The forests also are home to numerous plants, birds, and marsupials found nowhere else in the world. Daintree National Park, where the rainforest-covered mountains meet the coast, is home to some of the oldest living plants on Earth. Giant strangler figs, abundant vines and epiphytes, large pythons, colorful parrots, the giant cassowary, bandicoots, and tree kangaroos fill the Wet Tropics forests with color, sound, and complexity.Northeastern Queensland’s ancient rainforests preserve millions of years of evolutionary history, though unfortunately, these repositories have been greatly affected by habitat loss, fragmentation, and climate change. Northern Australia once supported extensive rainforests, but logging, mining, and agricultural production over the past two centuries have destroyed and degraded rainforest habitats, disrupting the patterns and processes that keep these forests vibrant. Today, over much of the area, only fragments of the original forests remain.Global climate change is very likely contributing to accelerating the loss of plant and animal species as well. The potentially devastating effect of climate change is playing out in the rainforests of Far North Queensland, where climate models predict a significant rise in local temperatures over the next century. The world-renowned Wet Tropics are often viewed as the “canary in the coal mine,” as a threat of this magnitude could possibly result in the loss of more than half of all Australian bird species and endemic mammals.Australia continues to be a global front-runner in recognizing the significance of ecosystem services and restoration ecology practices to maintain and ensure healthy rainforests. The country has halted rainforest destruction, established effective protected areas, and is confronting the threat of forest species loss from climate change more proactively than most tropical countries. Still, the integrity and survival of these ancient, unique, and majestic rainforests hinge upon developing management solutions that consider large-scale and localized impacts on biodiversity, including global climate change, while also providing conditions for economic and social sustainability for local communities.STUDENT RESEARCH
The program curriculum and research agenda address a critical local and regional environmental problem—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, as well as determining how 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 changeHabitat use and animal behaviorsResilience to cyclonic events, land-useLocal resident involvement in restoration projectsCost-effective and ecologically beneficial methods of restoration
SFS students’ work is recognized as a vital contribution toward broader studies on global climate change, ecological integrity of rainforest fragments, and developing restoration practices to maximize rates of plant growth and colonization by fauna. Students are also actively involved in replanting initiatives and restoration site maintenance with local land-care groups.FIELD RESEARCH, LECTURES, AND EXERCISESCamp in the Outback and explore Chillagoe's caves, rock formations, remnant dry rainforests, and eucalypt savannahExcursion to Cape Tribulation and Daintree National Park: walk through lowland rainforests, giant sedges with peppermint stick insects, mangrove forests, and palm forests; traverse the Daintree River, famous for its crocodiles; visit the canopy tower at the Daintree Environment Centre; sample and examine an array of forest types across the landscapeLend a hand at theTREAT (Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands Inc.) nurseryLearn about the geology and historical geography of the Atherton TablelandsAssess local residents’ and tourists’ attitudes toward nature and restorationAssess seedling recruitment of restored tropical rainforest at revegetation sitesExamine growth and mortality of tropical rainforest speciesSample plant functional traits and their effect on drought, frost, and cyclone resistanceExamine fauna in endangered plant communitiesDevelop field research skills including: GIS; rainforest management strategies; seedling propagation; social science research methods; data recording and analysis; research design; restoration techniques; and climate modelingCOMMUNITY FOCUS
The Atherton Tablelands and Wet Tropics have been home to the Center for Rainforest Studies for over 25 years. SFS is an active and engaged partner with many community organizations including TREAT (Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands Inc.), Landcare, and Tablelands National Park Volunteers. Our research provides solid scientific data and has direct policy implications for local decision-makers. It also creates important linkages between our Center and the diverse stakeholders involved in rainforest restoration and management and the development of sustainable communities and industries.Perhaps of greatest importance, by participating in restoration projects side-by-side with citizen volunteers, students come to understand rainforest ecosystems and management from a local perspective. Our students forge strong connections with residents who are passionate and knowledgeable about environmental stewardship.SFS students get involved in community volunteer projects and social activities such as:Helping local conservation groups and communities plant rainforest treesParticipating in community fauna surveysAttending special lectures on wildlife in conjunction with local conservation groupsHosting community dinners and participating in short homestaysAttending bush dances and community festivals, visiting the Malanda theatre, and socializing at the local pubs and sporting competitions, such as lawn bowling with AussiesMeeting with Aboriginal elders to learn more about their culture and efforts to reclaim their role in land managementHOUSING
The Center lies on the edge 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 the rainforest, which comprises 97 percent of the property’s 153 acres. The site is alive with the sounds of the rainforest, and sightings of tropical birds, bandicoots, pademelons, musky rat kangaroos, amethystine pythons, and other unique rainforest species are common. Students share eight-person cabins with separate shower and bathroom blocks. The main building of the field station houses the classroom, dining area, and a common room.