Lowland tropical rainforest of the Wet Tropics

Status: Endangered on the EPBC Act list

This ecological community includes the plants, animals and other organisms typically associated with a type of lowland tropical rainforest that is found in the Wet Tropics region of north Queensland.

Government evidence of impact of climate change:

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  • Approved Conservation Advice for the Lowland tropical rainforest of the Wet Tropics

    Altered microclimatic conditions can have a variety of impacts on the species and ecological processes near these edges.

    The microclimate at forest edges is typically hotter; drier and windier than the forest interior (Pohlman et al; 2008); which may increase the risk of fire and favour climbers and weed invasion (Laurance Curran 2008).

    Climate change is predicted to increase Severity the intensity and impact of these storms and habitat extreme fragmentation further modifies trajectories of response major (Ruting 2019 Turton 2019).

    The impact of cyclones is likely to become more severe in the future with the increase in average intensity of cyclones predicted under climate change (WTMA 2016b Turton 2019); and is discussed further under Climate Change ; below.

    Climate change Timing Climate change is expected to impact the ecological ongoing community by increasing the prevalence of extremely future high temperatures and rainfall patterns which are outside of the historical range in the region (e.g. delayed start to Severity wet season).

    The capacity of species and flora and fauna communities to adapt to climate change is uncertain.

    Species diversity in lowland rainforests is likely to be significantly affected by climate change; as the lowlands lack a source of species adapted to higher temperatures while those with narrow temperature requirements are driven uphill or go extinct (Colwell et al; 2008 Welbergen et al; 2008 Metcalfe Lawson 2015).

    Adaptation of the ecological community; or some of its component species; to climate change is compromised in the current landscape.

    A combination of future climate change; cyclone disturbance; fragmentation and high biomass exotic grasses on edges has made rainforest Severity more vulnerable to fire intrusion.

    These microclimate changes lead to alterations in species composition and vegetation structure; and consequent effects on fauna.

    Influence of climate change on future habitat suitability Tropical rainforests subjected to cyclones and intense weather systems at high frequency or intensity are likely to experience a decrease in diversity of native species and homogenization of communities at landscape and regional scales; slower rates of forest succession; increasing degradation of forest fragments and ultimately a decrease in ecosystem function (Murphy Metcalfe 2016).

    Cyclone intensity is projected to increase under future climate conditions (WTMA 2014).

    Simulation modelling of future climate scenarios suggests that parts of the lowlands will experience novel climates; and that these new climates have the potential to have significant negative impacts on biodiversity.

    Climate change scenarios for the Tully Murray lowlands (DJ Metcalfe TJ Lawson; unpubl. data; 2010) suggest that under a relatively conservative scenario (1 of warming; no change to rainfall); lowland rainforest potential extent may actually increase by c. 30 as coastal swamps dry out; though under more severe scenarios (e.g. 2 C of warming; 30 decrease in mean annual rainfall); rainforest potential extent would not increase as swamp forests convert to open woodlands.

    They also change over time; for example; in response to disturbance (by cyclones; logging; fire; or grazing); or to the climate and weather (e.g. seasons; floods; drought and extreme heat or cold).

    Fire Timing Fire is an emerging threat to rainforest in Australia; ongoing including in the Wet Tropics region.

    Decline in integrity due to fragmentation The remnant native vegetation on the floodplain of the Wet Tropics is today (except for estuarine areas) severely depleted; with many of the remnants existing in various stages of weed invasion and structural alteration due to changes in fire regimes; timber harvesting and other activities (Kemp et al; 2007).