Category Archives: Rainforest

From Rainforest to Oil Palms and back again: a Daintree Rainforest Rescue in far north Queensland

Robert Kooyman, Joe Reichl, Edie Beitzel, Grant Binns, Jennifer Croes, Erryn Stephens, and Madeleine Faught

The establishment of Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis) plantations is responsible for massive rainforest clearing and destruction throughout the tropics of Southeast Asia and beyond, and has captured the attention of conservation organisations around the world. One such organisation is Rainforest Rescue (RR), a not for profit Australian based conservation NGO. Through local and international projects (including in the Daintree region of Australia and Sumatra in Indonesia) RR has undertaken conservation actions that include removal of Oil Palm plantations to re-establish rainforest close to National Park areas.

The rainforest of the Daintree region provides an active window into the evolution, biogeography, and ecology of the southern (Gondwanan) rainforests, and their interaction with Indo-Malesian floristic elements. It has many (ca. 120) federal- and state- listed Threatened, Vulnerable, Of Concern, and Rare plant and animal species and a range of rainforest types.

To achieve restoration of a small (27.6 ha) but important piece of the global distribution of lowland tropical rainforest, RR purchased Lot 46 Cape Tribulation Road in the Daintree area of far north Queensland, Australia in 2010 and, in 2012, secured funding to set the property on its long journey back to rainforest.

The property was partly cleared in the 1960s, first for cattle grazing and later for Oil Palm cultivation. It has a mix of cleared (ca. 11 ha) and early stage natural regeneration (ca. 10ha) areas, bounded on two sides by more intact and mature rainforest (ca. 7 ha). Soils are mostly free-draining sandy clay loams on flat terrain

The on-ground works.  The property was divided into five working Zones as part of the restoration planning process (Fig. 1). Because of a nearby large seed source forest a key objective of the project is to maximise and protect natural regeneration, as well as planting larger openings. Up to 30,000 trees representing 100 species are expected to be planted during the 2-year life of the project, with around 10 ha of natural regeneration interspersed.

Figure 1. Map showing property, work zones (ZONE 1-5), permanent photographic points (Photo point 1-9), location of planting trials (Zones 1 and 2), and primary weed control area (2013) in orange. (Courtesy Google Earth)

Figure 1. Map showing property, work zones (ZONE 1-5), permanent photographic points (Photo point 1-9), location of planting trials (Zones 1 and 2), and primary weed control area (2013) in orange. (Courtesy Google Earth)

Trial tree plantings were undertaken in early 2011 and 2012, and selective weed management (herbicide based grass and soft weed control) began at the same time to optimise natural regeneration prior to identifying and preparing suitable planting sites.

Plantings.  The planting trials were each one hectare in area and designed to test the efficacy of two different high diversity (60-90 species) planting designs. In Zone 1 tree spacing was 2.5m, and in Zone 2 the spacing was 1.5m. Seedlings for rainforest plantings were propagated and grown in the RR nursery in the Daintree lowlands. Seed collection was undertaken north of the Daintree River and included seed collected from the property. A low number of vines were included in the species mix for subsequent plantings.

A total of 90 species have been planted to date. The species mix included some early stage (pioneer type) tree species from genera such as Polyscias (Araliaceae), Alphitonia (Rhamnaceae), Macaranga (Euphorbiaceae) and Commersonia (Malvaceae); and tall fast growing species such as Elaeocarpus grandis (Elaeocarpaceae) and Aleurites moluccana (Euphorbiaceae). The remaining species represented mostly moderately fast growing species, and some slower growing mature phase rainforest species.

Weed control. Where possible, large Oil Palms were removed mechanically, but to protect existing rainforest regeneration many required stem injection with herbicide. Several methods are currently being trialled to determine the most time and cost effective approach to controlling this large and difficult weed.

Late in 2012 and early in 2013 extensive mechanical and chemical weed control was undertaken in Zones 3, 4 and 5 (Fig. 1). This included mechanical clearing of large areas dominated by Giant Bramble (Rubus alceifolius) and other weeds, and some mechanical removal of Oil Palm seedlings on the southern side of the creek that traverses the property (Zones 3 and 4). Follow up chemical control (systematic backpack spraying of glyphosate) was conducted immediately (as required) to complete the site preparation for planting. This was targeted at grasses, broad-leaf weeds, and regrowth of woody weeds.

Monitoring design. Monitoring plots (7 / 50 x 20m plots, each with 10 / 10 x 10m subplots) and permanent photographic points (12 in total, 7 in association with monitoring plots) were established in the five working Zones. Cover, number of species and density will be recorded in these plots at each stratum at 12 month intervals. One monitoring plot was established in each of Zones 1 and 2, three in Zone 3 (including directly adjacent to Zone 4), and two in Zone 5 (in the north of the property; yet to be measured). Zone 4 will be monitored visually and by photo point as it is mostly natural regeneration enhanced by weed control.

Preliminary Results. The first round of project monitoring (year 1 establishment) provided base-line information for future development of the plantings and natural regeneration through assessing canopy cover, leaf litter cover, and a range of other factors that will change over time (Table 1). Informal observations have shown that site dominance was achieved by the trees planted 12 and 18 months ago in Zones 1 and 2.  Substantial numbers of wildling seedlings (of up to 11 species in a plot; and 15 in total) were found in the sites monitored prior to more recent planting.

Mechanical weed control was reported to be extremely effective and the operator was able to minimise damage to existing regrowth of species such as Melicope elleryana (Rutaceae), Glochidion harveyanum var. harveyanum (Phyllanthaceae), Macaranga involucrata var. mallotoides (Euphorbiaceae), Polyscias australiana (Araliaceae), Rhodamnia sessiliflora (Myrtaceae), Alphitonia incana (Rhamnaceae) and Aidia racemosa (Rubiaceae). In combination with the early implementation of broad and targeted spraying this maximised the retention of substantial existing saplings and seedlings.

Project funding will cease in 2014, and control of all weeds and rainforest establishment is expected to be completed in 2015; with only minor weed control required thereafter once canopy cover is established. Monitoring will continue at 12 month intervals and inform future publications.

Acknowledgements: The project is dependent on the generous support of RR donors and the on-going efforts of RR staff in FNQld. Funding for the project was provided by a Federal Government Biodiversity Fund Grant.

Contact:  Robert Kooyman, National Herbarium of NSW, Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Mrs Macquaries Road, Sydney 2000 Australia.   Email: robert@ecodingo.com.au;

Figure 2 Mechanical weed control in Zone 3 (January 2013) prior to planting. Note remaining natural regeneration.

Figure 2 Mechanical weed control in Zone 3 (January 2013) prior to planting. Note remaining natural regeneration.

Figure 3. Newly planted trees in Zone 3 (March 2013). Note surrounding natural regeneration.

Figure 3. Newly planted trees in Zone 3 (March 2013). Note surrounding natural regeneration.

Figure 4. Zone 2 planting trial established in late 2011 at 18 months. Tree spacing at 2 - 2.5m.

Figure 4. Zone 2 planting trial established in late 2011 at 18 months. Tree spacing at 2 – 2.5m.

Table 1.  Synthesis of baseline data for natural regeneration, and progress (including planting) up to February 2013 measured on (50 x 20m) permanent monitoring plots (PP), in Zones (1,2,3), by Themes (1 – planting; 2 – natural regeneration). PD – total planted diversity on plot; PS(n) – number of seedling planted on plot; WS – wildling seedlings (0.5-1m in height); WD – wildling diversity; Av. CC(%) – Average Canopy Cover (%); Av. L(%) – Average Litter Cover (%); Av. LBC(%) – Average Log-Branch Cover (%); Av. PCHt – Average planted canopy height (m); dbh – diameter at breast height (1.3m); NR – Number of stems, natural regeneration >1cm DBH; NR-div – Diversity of natural regeneration >1cm DBH; Age (mths) – Age of planting in months. Zone 4 (not shown) has permanent photo points and visual monitoring.

PP Zone Theme PD PS(n) WS WD Av.CC(%) Av.L(%) Av.LBC(%) Av. PCHt NR NR-div Age(m)

1

3

1, 2

82

424

236

7

27.5

52

7

0.6 – 1

218

12

1

2

3

1, 2

0

0

587

11

41

61.5

6.7

NA

248

11

0

3

3

1, 2

0

0

133

5

18.5

48.8

4.6

NA

109

9

0

4

2

1

85

390

45

7

13

30.6

3

1-2m

45

5

12

5

1

1

85

207

95

5

45.5

58

5

2-3m

48

7

18

Appendix 1 List of main weed species located and treated on the property.

Common Name Species Family Life Form
Sanchezia Sanchezia parvibracteata Acanthaceae herb
Brillantaisia Brillantaisia lamium Acanthaceae herb
Goosefoot Syngonium podophyllum Araceae vine
Toothed Philodendron Philodendron lacerum Araceae climber
Oil Palm Elaeis guineensis Arecaceae palm
Dracaeana Dracaeana fragans Asparagaceae small tree
Sensitive Plant Mimosa pudica Fabaceae creeper
Calopo Calopogonium mucunoides Fabaceae creeper
 Green Summer Grass Urochloa decumbens Poaceae grass
Giant Bramble Rubus alceifolius Rosaceae scrambler
Snake Weed Stachytarpheta cayennensis Verbenaceae herb

Rotary Park regeneration project, Lismore NSW

Tein McDonald

Key words: Dry rainforest, regeneration, Anredera cordifolia, long term project, flying-foxes.

Rainforest regeneration works at the 11.5 ha dry rainforest remnant, Rotary Park, Lismore, commenced in in June 1985 under the leadership of Keith King, the then Parks and Gardens Supervisor for Lismore City Council, and inspired by the success of John Stockard at Wingham Brush.

The site, surrounded by residential areas and bordered by a main road, was considered (prior to treatment) so degraded by weed vines that many considered it beyond redemption. The canopy was infested with vines including Madeira Vine (Anredera cordifolia), Asparagus africanus and A. plumosus and Morning glory (Ipomoea spp.) (Fig 1).  Within the forest, the ground was blanketed by Tradescantia (Tradescantia fluminensis) and Madiera Vine tuberlings, with Large- and Small-leaved Privet (Ligustrum spp.) dispersed throughout more degraded areas and edges and gaps often dominated by Lantana (Lantana camara).

Works and results. The project initially trialed minimal disturbance techniques promoted by the bush regeneration movement in Sydney but soon found that higher levels of disturbance were needed to trigger regeneration and render the tuberlings of Madeira Vine and other weed susceptible to herbicide spray.  Adapting the Wingham Method to local conditions, Keith King and the regeneration team led by Rosemary Joseph radically transformed the rainforest into a relatively healthy dry rainforest patch over a period of 10-15 years, although primary work in some parts of the site is still not completed.

Lessons learned.  Prior to primary work being completed, populations of  Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) and Black Flying-fox (P.  alecto) have established roosts in the forest.  This added significantly to the work load as it increased the density and number of weed species, with new species including by Flying-foxes including Giant Devil’s Fig (Solanum chrysotrichum) and tropical fruits such as Guava (Psidium guajava).  When the trees were stripped of foliage by the flying-foxes, the trees were then used as roots by White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca). This contributed additional ammonia which resulted in deteriorated working conditions for regenerators.  While the project remains on a maintenance budget, current budgets have been insufficient to complete the primary work on other parts of the site.

Acknowledgements. The site is managed by Lismore City Council who have funded the project since its inception.

Contact: Rosemary Joseph  c/o Lismore City Council Martin.Soutar@lismore.nsw.gov.au

Canopy Gap at Rotary Park dry rainforest, Lismore in 1987 (prior to restoration works). (Photo Rosemary Joseph)

Same canopy gap at Rotary Park dry rainforest, Lismore in 1988 (1 year after primary clearing). (Photo Rosemary Joseph)

Same  canopy gap at Rotary Park dry rainforest, Lismore in 2006. (Photo Rosemary Joseph)

More than a decade of bush regeneration at the Wootha Nature Refuge

Key words: Rainforest restoration, assisted regeneration, Nature Refuge, bush regeneration industry funding models

Spencer Shaw

Rainforest restoration work has been carried out at Wootha Nature Refuge since the property was purchased by its current landholder in the early 2000s.

The property, located on the Blackall Range in the Sunshine Coast region of south east Queensland,  contains a mix of pasture on the higher gently sloping ground and remnant rainforest community (Regional Ecosystem 12.8.3) on the escarpment below the range. When works started on this site the rainforest was highly fragmented, with Lantana (Lantana camara) dominating the gullies and patches of Broad-leaved Privet (Ligustrum lucidum) dominating the areas between the rainforest patches. 

Figure 1. Landscape context, Wootha NR is on the southern slopes of the Blackall Range. Greater than 90% of the plateau vegetation has been cleared.

The landholder has undertaken substantial restoration works, complementing his formal protection of the remnant and restoration areas under in-perpetuity agreements with both Local and State Governments (through a Voluntary Conservation Agreement (VCA) and Nature Refuge (NR)).

Works undertaken. Works have been undertaken by Brush Turkey Enterprises since 2002 on a monthly to fortnightly basis for the whole of the last decade. 

The initial control works consisted of the poisoning Broad-leaved Privet in-situ for a 500m strip along the western boundary. The technique employed for control of the Broad-leaved Privet early in the project was “frill & paint” (i.e. stem injection). This was undertaken with a small axe cutting 100mm wide cuts into the bark and allowing 100mm spacing, covering two full circumferences of each tree trunk. Herbicide was applied via a squirt bottle of 1:1 glyphosate 360 and water. Our contemporary control technique is a modification of this technique using small arbor chainsaws. 

Figure 2. Lantana camara control in gullies 2005.

Subsequent contract Bush Regeneration works have been relatively low key over the last 10 years, with as little as eight Bush Regenerator days per year – and have focused on the control of Lantana in the gullies to control exotic vegetation and facilitate rainforest pioneer recruitment.  Lantana control has been undertaken using the “track and overspray” technique. Tracks are cut with both brushcutters or fern hooks and glyphosate 360 herbicide is applied by backpack sprayers at a 1:100 dilution with water. Lantana works are preferably undertaken in winter months, due to access difficulties.

Results. Regeneration in the areas previously dominated by Broad-leaved Privet was rapid.  Many species recruited to re-establish a diverse native edge to the rainforest remnant areas; including rare species such as the Threadybark Myrtle (Gossia inophloia).

Approximately 2 ha of Lantana in the gullies have been replaced by naturally regenerating vegetation including species such as as Bleeding Heart (Homalanthus nutans), Black Wattle (Acacia melanoxylon) and Giant Stinging Tree (Dendrocnide excelsa).

Figure 3. Dendrocnide excelsa recruitment. Also shows Basalt scree slopes which dominate this part of the escarpment.

Lessons learned. Until the early 2000s all funding for ecological restoration works in South-east Queensland were linked to ‘trees planted’, and only allowed for revegetation projects. The novel approach taken by the funding program that the works were initially supported by was to require recipients to quantify ‘trees established’ rather than ‘trees planted’ and it also considered eligible, projects that used natural regeneration as a revegetation method.  As such, the Wootha project was the first in our area to employ bush regenerators to facilitate natural regeneration of native ecosystems.

We consider this project to be a good example of what can happen if there is consistency of follow up undertaken (even if limited) over a long time period.  Too often projects undertake the ‘primary’ clearing of a site but undertake little or no ‘secondary’ or follow-up work.  Although relatively minor annual works take place on this site, the ongoing nature of the funding for this project and hands on involvement by the landholder provides for the steady and incremental restoration of the rainforest. This is achieving actual and long-term success.

Acknowledgements. Funding for our works came initially through the SE QLD Rainforest Recovery Project and later through the VCA with Sunshine Coast Regional Council. The project would not have occurred or succeeded without the landholder’s dedication to both rainforest conservation and the bush regeneration industry in SE Queensland.

Contact: Spencer Shaw, Brush Turkey Enterprises (Natural Area Management), P.O. Box 326, Maleny, QLD Australia 4552; Tel: +61 7 5494 3642 or Mob: 0428 130 769; Email: spencer.shaw@brushturkey.com.au; Web: www.brushturkey.com.au

Rainforest restoration on private land – Wompoo Gorge, Huonbrook, NSW

 Key words: Rainforest restoration, assisted natural regeneration, Lantana control, threatened species conservation

Maree Thompson

Wompoo Gorge is a private property located at Huonbrook in the Byron Shire hinterland, north coast NSW. The property provides a link between Nightcap and Goonengerry National Parks with Coopers Creek running along the eastern boundary. Originally covered by lowland subtropical rainforest with a stand of eucalypt forest extending down from the 100m high escarpment, half of the site was cleared early last century and partially converted to pasture and banana plantations. At the commencement of the project, the area contained various stages of rainforest regeneration and dense infestations of Lantana (Lantana camara). Twenty-seven threatened species (10 threatened flora species and 17 vulnerable animal species) have been recorded at Wompoo Gorge. The site has exceptional restoration potential and overall conservation significance.

Lantana infestation before works

An ongoing ecological restoration project is being implemented at the property, based on the recommendations of the Wompoo Gorge (South) Restoration Action Plan. In the three years to date, dense areas of Lantana in the area originally cleared have been controlled by mechanical means. A 4-wheel drive tractor was used to drive over and flatten Lantana over 2ha, returning a few weeks later to slash the Lantana. This method (first developed by Ralph Woodford at Rocky Creek Dam) resulted in the death of the majortiy of Lantana treated. Care was taken to aviod any existing regrowth of rainforest species near edges and regrowth patches.

Bush regeneration works have now been extended over an additional 14ha. A range of weed control techniques (including overspray and use of a splatter gun) have been used in the denser areas of Lantana not accessable by tractor. Hand weeding with brush hooks and loppers and cut/scrape and paint of Lantana is being undertaken in the more lightly invested native vegetation. Fruits from native plants on site have been collected and spread through out regeneration areas, adding to seed in the soil bank and that which is naturally distributed.

Tractor clearing of Lantana

A monitoring program was established on site prior to the commencement of works. This included eight monitoring transects. Structural and floristic information was collated and photos taken prior to the commencement of works and then at the end of the first year. Data were entered into MERV (Monitoring and Evalution of the Restoration of Vegetation) database and used to produce reports.

From Lantana to bare ground in Year 1

Results. The previously dense Lantana areas have converted from weed to strongly regenerating rainforest by means of natural regeneration occurring over the 3 years since treatment. The areas first treated in Year 1, in particular the area where a tractor was used to control Lantana, have had impressive growth of native species, now up to a height of over 5 metres. Common regrowth species include White Cedar (Melia azederach), Trema (Trema tomentosa), Red Cedar (Toona ciliata), Tamarind, Sandpaper Fig (Ficus coronata), Bangalow Palm (Achontophoenix cunninghamiana), Brown Kurrajong (Commersonia bartramia), Stinging Tree (Dendrocnide excelsa), Pencil Cedar (Polyscias murrayi), Celerywood (Polyscias elegans), Blue Quandong (Elaeocarpus grandis), Black Bean (Castanospermum australe) and Sally Wattle (Acacia sp.). A strong mix of later phase rainforest species are also germinating. Groundcovers include Soft Braken Fern (Culcita dubia), Cunjevoi Lily (Alocasia brisbanensis), Juncus spp., Cyperus spp. and a range of basket grasses (including Oplismenus spp. and Ottochloa gracillima).

Regenerating natives at the end of Year 2. By the end of Year 3 it was difficult to get a view above the regenerating trees to take overview photos.

Lessons learned. As with all projects, follow-up weed control is essential to ensure that native species come to dominate the site in the long term. The project has recently gained funds to continue the works for a further 3 years. This will allow the project to to continue works into nearby areas where it is known that significant and sustainable environmental outcomes can be achieved on a cost effective basis.

Funding. The project is funding by a 3 year NSW Environmental Trust project with addtional support from the 2010 DECCW Great Eastern Ranges Initiative-Connectivity Conservation Incentives; the Northern Rivers CMA Invasive Species Weeds of National Significance program, and the EnviTE Jobs Fund and Green Jobs Corps teams. Further funding has been gained through the Raymond Borland Bequest Grants program and the Big Scrub Rainforest Landcare Group’s Caring for Our Country project.

Contact: Maree Thompson, EnviTE Inc, 56 Carrington Street (P.O.Box 1124), Lismore NSW 2480; Tel: +61 2 6621 9588, Email: mareet@envite.org.au

Thiaki Creek: Cost-effective Rainforest Restoration for Carbon & Biodiversity

Key words: landscape resilience; rainforest fragments; connectivity; endangered species

Noel Preece

A large-scale reforestation experiment has begun in the Wet Tropics to examine the best and most cost-effective ways of reforesting a long-cleared grassed landscape to rainforest. The project is on Thiaki Creek, a highland tributary of the North Johnstone River which flows onto the Great Barrier Reef of Far North Queensland. The project is based on a fully replicated experimental design of 64 plots, covering over 20 hectares.

Part of the 20 ha experimental area in which the 64 plots are laid out. Rows were sprayed to suppress the exotic pasture grasses and the planters are planting the seedlings directly into the ground with planter spades.

The local ecosystem is moist complex notophyll vine rainforest (type 7.8.4) which can be seen in the background. This is State-listed (endangered) rainforest, home to endangered Cassowaries and six species of possum, and more than a hundred species of bird including the rare Grey Goshawk.

Aims: While forestry practices using monoculture tree species are well developed, reforestation practices using mixed native species for carbon sequestration and biodiversity are relatively poorly understood. Results of mixed plantings have been variable, regularly producing less than optimal outcomes and high establishment and maintenance costs have resulted in poor returns from investment. This is due to inadequate research on optimum site preparation, species mixes, spacings and propagation to achieve more cost effective outcomes.

Results and lessons: 27,000 trees were planted in January 2011, a few days before Cyclone Yasi. Early lessons learned are that spraying pasture grasses in strips, rather than blanket spraying the whole planting area, provides protection from erosion, wind and desiccation. Planting when the ground is saturated improves survival rates. An early experimental result demonstrates that forestry planting methods using planting spades take ¼ the time and 1/6 the expense of using augers, a common practice among landholders in the region, and the responses of mixed rainforest species is very good, with less than 6% loss.

Future directions: A range of studies has commenced on the site, including studies on soil carbon and nutrients; above ground carbon; plant diversity and plant functional traits; bee, fly, ant and dung beetle diversity and function; review of restoration practices; and economics. Future studies could include vertebrate roles and responses; competitive effects of tree mixtures; relationships of spacings and species to site capture rates and natural suppression of grasses; diversity versus productivity and resilience; mycorrhiza and other soil microbiota studies; soil hydrology and micro-climatology.
Stakeholders: The project is supported by a 5-year Australian Research Council Linkage grant, with the Universities of Queensland, Adelaide, Charles Darwin, Cambridge and Lancaster and Linkage partners Stanwell Corporation, Terrain NRM Ltd, Greening Australia and Biome5 Pty Ltd.

Contacts: Dr Margie Mayfield, University of Queensland, m.mayfield@uq.edu.au; Dr Noel Preece, Biome5 Pty Ltd, noel@biome5.com.au. Outlines of the Thiaki project are shown on: www.biome5.com.au/page/thiaki.html and www.mayfieldplantecologylab.org/site/Thiaki_Project.html