Rainforest biodiversity [ 2011-01-01T05:03:20Z - 2014-12-31T05:03:35Z ]

Provided by   James Cook University

Research Project

Researchers: Jeremy James VanDerWal Stephen Edward Williams

Brief description

This project will provide detailed mapping of present and future biodiversity patterns and drivers, environmental and evolutionary refugia and a comprehensive assessment of the vulnerability and resilience of rainforest biodiversity in Australian tropical forests. We will use a combination of available knowledge, existing datasets and strategic research to inform adaptive strategies for promoting persistence of biodiversity. This knowledge will enable efficient spatial and temporal prioritisation of vulnerable species and threats to maximise the efficiency of management investment.

Full description

This project will act as an integrating focus within the rainforest theme to strategically target research gaps and thereby increase our understanding of the drivers of rainforest biodiversity. We will generate high resolution maps and landscape scale estimates of temporal trends in the condition of biodiversity and environmental changes.

The project consists of four subprojects:

A. Monitoring: Tasks include a microsensor network, standardised vertebrate surveys, habitat structure monitoring and data harvesting from other projects. 

A comprehensive review of regional literature followed by extensive stakeholder consultation identified long-term monitoring data as the most important knowledge gap in the region (Welbergen et al. 2011). This sub-project is aimed at maintaining and significantly improving a regional-scale, long-term environmental monitoring program that provides biodiversity and environmental data that has a demonstrated value to a wide range of users including the research community, regional/state/national management agencies and conservation policy development, and national / international bioinformatic infrastructure initiatives (e.g. ALA, TERN). Data collected and maintained here will provide the primary input for the other sub-projects described below with flow-on inputs to many of the other proposed projects across the rainforest node. These data will include but not be limited to:

  1. Regional microclimate sensor network at more than 30 sites established under MTSRF that are strategically placed across elevational and latitudinal gradients in the region.
    • Replace and upgrade existing microclimate stations (now defunct/worn out)
    • Establish standardised microclimate logging stations in new sites in gaps in environmental coverage, identified climatic refugia, peripheral habitat isolates and increased coverage of the rainforest edge habitats (e.g. wet sclerophyll). Data: temperature (air, soil, microhabitats), humidity, soil moisture, cloud interception.
  1. Standardised vertebrate surveys across all long-term sites (>30) including:
    • 2-4 complete surveys per year for three years with 6 replicated sampling points within each site and including standardised surveys of: birds, reptiles, spotlighting (mammals and other nocturnal fauna) and microhylid frogs, with potential to add specific other groups dependent on student projects.
    • These surveys follow well-established and extensively published methodologies within the CTBCC (e.g. Williams et al.Ecology 2010). 
  1. Habitat structure monitoring will be continued and improved at all monitoring sites both directly by this project and via site-based collaboration with other projects including rainforest dynamics project (Project 10 - Laurance) and plant genetics (Project 9 -Crayn).
  2. Link to Project 14: potential monitoring of vegetation structure and thermal properties using UAV technology to capture aerial photos, multispectral remote sensing, Lidar vegetation structure, thermal imagery of habitat and fauna, cyclone damage and canopy condition.
  3. Additional monitoring data will be harvested across the node for increased regional and taxonomic coverage and baseline data improvements via links and data exchange with Projects 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 18, 20 and 25.

B. Climate change vulnerability and adaptation: Includes the production of downscaled regional climate projections, projected changes in species distribution models, composite biodiversity maps, identification and mapping of climate refugia, predictive models of impacts on biodiversity including extreme events.

Climate change is arguably the single largest threat to biodiversity in Australia and the unique biodiversity of the Wet Tropics rainforests is recognised as one of the most threatened ecosystems globally (IPCC 4th AR). This subproject will build on previous and existing research to provide cutting-edge predictions on climate change impacts, vulnerability assessment and adaptation options for rainforest biodiversity. We will link closely with the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Network to ensure that outputs, tools and approaches are distributed across this network for maximum national and regional benefit and outcomes.  Specific objectives and collaborative links include:

  1. Produce and make available downscaled regional climate projections using eight Global Climate Models across multiple (at least 3) emission scenarios at 10 year time steps from 1970-2080 for more than 50 bioclimatic variables;
  2. Projected changes, including uncertainty estimates, in species distribution models and composite biodiversity maps for the majority of rainforest vertebrates, 500+ species of invertebrates, major vegetation types and some key ecosystem processes (baseline data for these analyses were collected under MTSRF and ongoing projects within the CTBCC);
  3. Identify and map climatic refugia (extension of previous MTSRF work that mapped landscape-scale temperature refugia by Shoo et al. 2010a, 2010b). This analysis will expand previous work to include finer scale microhabitat refugia and also increase the generality of the analyses by examining moisture refugia and dry season drought events that have been shown to have significant impacts on biodiversity (Williams & Middleton 2008, Middleton & Williams in review).
  4. Produce predictive impact models on biodiversity that explicitely include a consideration of extreme events rather than just environmental means/averages. Project will link closely with the extreme climate events project (Project 16 – Welbergen) to incorporate the impacts of changes in the frequency, intensity, duration and extent of extreme events, such as heat waves and droughts, as a major component of assessing relative vulnerability and adaptation actions;
  5. Project will closely collaborate with Project 15 (Phillips, Llewelyn) examining the potential for useful local adaptation to climate changeextremes in isolated populations. This link explores the potential to utilise existing adaptive potential as a means to increase species resilience to climate change.
  6. Other external links:
    • NCCARF Refugia project (National) -  proposed
    • NCCARF Terrestrial Biodiversity Research Network
    • Northern Biodiversity NERP Hub
    • AEDA Hub – Restoration project and Future Fellowship (Wintle) examining demographic modelling and climate change.
  7. Incorporate IPCC 5th Assessment Report climate models and scenarios into all above analyses, once they become available.

C. Synthesis, analysis and integration: Determinants of biodiversity: Includes mapping of almost all rainforest vertebrates and 200+ species of invertebrates, identify key monitoring locations, examining the relationships between biodiversity and vegetation and landscape structure. 

An understanding of the drivers of biodiversity in the region is crucial to predicting impacts from a variety of threats and ensuring effective conservation planning and management that aims to maintain a resilient landscape. We will use data collected in subproject A in combination with our existing extensive vertebrate and invertebrate database to examine the drivers of biodiversity in the region and to provide the resources and knowledge to make this useful to stakeholders. Specific objectives will include, but not be limited to:

  1. Mapping of almost all rainforest vertebrates and >500 species of invertebrates (distribution and abundance) with emphasis on threatened species;
  2. Identify key locations and taxa where we have long-term count data and/or high frequency of repeat count surveys over time periods that have encompassed important environmental change. We will undertake statistical power analyses to evaluate condition and trends of species (e.g., range shifts, change in population size);
  3. Analyses will also inform the design of our ongoing monitoring program (subproject A) to maximise the detection of change in a cost-effective manner.
  4. Comprehensive habitat/vegetation type vulnerability assessment;
  5. Examine a range of environmental and evolutionary drivers of biodiversity to provide the basic scientific underpinnings for evidence-based policy and management in the region including paleostability of habitat; seasonal habitat and climatic stability, relationships to ecosystem processes such as net primary productivity, habitat structure and heterogeneity, species and habitat compositional turnover and evolutionary biology.
  6. Examine relationships between biodiversity and vegetation and landscape structure (vegetation type and structure, habitat extent, connectivity etc.)

D. Status, trends and future projections: Includes Producing a spatial and temporal resources tool that allows web-based query of all the above datasets.

No practical measure currently exists to evaluate trends in biodiversity values at the ‘whole-of-region’ scale in near real-time on a regular, repeatable and affordable basis (WTMA Research Strategy 2010-2014). We will generate high resolution maps and landscape scale estimates of temporal trends in the condition of biodiversity and environmental changes. This will be the major vehicle for synthesizing, integrating and communicating data from all projects. This project will make use of extensive computing power represented by the collaboration between the CTBCC and the James Cook University eResearch group and High Performance Computing Facility. Specific objectives:

  1. Produce and make publicly available a spatial and temporal resources tool that allows web-based query of all the above datasets based on a user-defined spatial area that will return all predicted and observed data within the query area for climate (past, current and future projections), habitat, species (predicted and observed), biodiversity values, terrain, ecosystem processes and, where available data is site-based, the tool could query the temporal patterns in the data (e.g. changes in abundance of a species) with “approaching real-time” updates (expected bi-annual upload of all new biodiversity and environmental data with temporal resolution dependent on the specific data stream, example quarterly for the standardised vertebrate surveys).
  2. Automatic upload, synthesis and visualisation in JCU eResearch group (Tropical Data Hub) including time series examination of trends;
  3. Automated upload via Tropical Data Hub onto National (ALA, TERN, NPEI) and international (GBIF) data infrastructure. This means that as data is entered into our system from the monitoring program and other projects, it will be uploaded and available via national and international data portals;
  4. Future forecasting of trends and forecasts via combination of modelling and workshopping to conduct future horizon scanning.

Once established, these bioinformatic tools could form the basis for UNESCO, and Queensland and Australian government reporting on the state of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, and could easily be utilized more generally across other ecosystems in Australia.


Funding scheme: Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities-National Environmental Research Program - Tropical Ecosystems Hub

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