An emerald labyrinth located parallel to the Great Barrier Reef in northeastern Queensland’s is one of Australia’s few rainforests. This region is driven by orographic precipitation, or rainfall that is produced when moist warm air is lifted and cooled over mountains. The Great Dividing Range is located to the west and is responsible for the high levels of rainfall as warm moist air from Pacific Ocean is cooled causing precipitation on the eastern slope. This translates to the wettest area on the entire Australian continent – with annual totals of more than 300 inches in some forests.
Despite the soil being low in nutrients due to leaching from the high levels of rainfall, the forest is abundant with plant life. Home to more primitive plant families than anywhere else in the world, the region has a greater level of endemism than Madagascar or New Caledonia. Since the Carboniferous period 415 million years ago, this rainforest has been isolated for much of that time – creating an array of unique species illustrating evolution’s marvels.
The Wet Tropics are no less unique in regards to animal life, with 2% of the bird species are found only in this rainforest, 10% of the mammals, 25% of the reptiles and an astonishing 43% of the amphibians. With this high level of endemism, the region contains an astonishing number of the species found in Australia – for example 40% of all the bird species are found in a region that occupies less than 0.2% of the total land. Some of the iconic animal species include the Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) and the Musky Rat-Kangaroo (Hypsiprymnodon moschatus), one of the most basal species on the kangaroo evolutionary tree (Macropodidae).
The millennia of isolation that brought us the diversity of life forms on Australia also put it at risk from a conservation standpoint. Our global commerce and ease of travel have placed this biodiversity at greater threats than ever before. Many of the recent extinctions of Australia’s wildlife is directly due to the accidental introduction of non-native animal and plants – that led to the demise of the endemics. Cane toads, foxes, rabbits, pheasants are some of the accidental and intentional introductions, just to name a few. There have been extensive efforts that succeeded in declaring the region a World Heritage Site – hopefully affording protection for these forests for generations for come.
For more information about these rainforests and how you can help – please click the following www.wettropics.gov.au