Gondwana Rainforests of Australia
This site, comprising several protected areas, is situated predominantly along the Great Escarpment on Australia’s east coast. The outstanding geological features displayed around shield volcanic craters and the high number of rare and threatened rainforest species are of international significance for science and conservation.
2020 Conservation Outlook
A significant management challenge occurred in the Austral spring and summer of 2019-2020, when a prolonged drought that was exacerbated by record breaking temperatures and rainfall deficits culminated in extensive and severe wildfires. Management responses to this catastrophic event are considerable, and on-going, but given the severe nature and extent of the fires even the significant resources and even well-planned and completed hazard reduction burns conducted in the previous autumn and winter season were ineffective. There are several government inquires into the causes and responses to the fires. The fires dramatically changed the conservation outlook for the Gondwana Rainforest of Australia, and it remains to be seen whether the natural ecosystems and ecological functions are sufficiently resilient to recover from this previously unexperienced perturbation. Actions are in place to make rapid assessments of the levels of impacts, to undertake welfare for threatened species, to limit the impact of invasive predators and weeds, and for some plants for seeds to be collected for future propagation. There is wide recognition that considerable conservation actions will be required. However, there is the lingering prospect that the catastrophe is a clear sign of the impact of climate change on weather patterns, and that these changes will not be reversed easily. The Gondwana Rainforests exist as refuges where many deep phylogenetic lineages persisted during episodes of past climate fluctuations. The conservation management challenge is to support and maintain that resilience into the future.
Current state and trend of VALUES
Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT
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Description of values
Outstanding examples of significant ongoing geological processes
Outstanding examples of relict plant species
Outstanding examples of relict and other vertebrate and invertebrate species
Outstanding examples of ongoing evolutionary processes
Endemic and threatened plants
Endemic and threatened mammals
Endemic and threatened birds
Endemic and threatened frogs
Endemic and threatened reptiles
The following list includes species identified as attributes of World Heritage values. Plant species considered to be affected include Bertya ernestiana, Brachyscome ascendens, Bulbophyllum weinthalii subsp. weinthalii, Clematis fawcetti, Euphrasia bella, Floydia praealta, Leionema elatius subsp. beckleri, Leptospermum barneyense, Leucopogon recurvisepalus, Macadamia tetraphylla, Marsdenia coronata, Marsdenia longiloba, Pseudanthus pauciflorus subsp. pauciflorus, Pultenaea whiteana, Sarcochilus hartmannii, Tetramolopium vagans, Westringia rupicola, Ziera collina, Zieria montana. Animal species considered to be affected include: Birds: Eastern bristlebird (Dasyornis brachypterus), rufous-scrub bird (Atrichornis rufescens), Coxen's fig-parrot, Alberts lyrebird (Menura alberti), plumed frogmouth (Podargus ocellatus), masked owl (Tyto novaehollandiae), powerful owl (Ninox strenua), black-breasted button quail (Turnix melanogaster). Mammals: Hastings river mouse (Pseudomys oralis), New Holland mouse (Pseudomys novaehollandiae), brush-tailed rock wallaby (Petroogale penicillata), long-nosed potoroo (Potorous tridactylus), spotted quoll (Dasyurus maculatus), greater glider (Petauroides volans), koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), black-tailed marsupial mouse (Antechinus arktos). Reptiles: three-toed snake-tooth skink (Coearanoscincus reticulatus), Oakview leaf-tailed gecko (Phylurus kabikabi). Frogs: red and yellow mountain frog (Philoria kundagungan), sphagnum frog (P. sphagnicolus), Pugh's mountain frog (P. pughi), Loveridgei's mountain frog (P. loveridgei), giant barred frog (Mixophyes iteratus), Fleay's barred frog (M. fleayi), stuttering frog (M. balbus), Davies' tree frog (Litoria daviesae), glandular frog (L. subglandulosa), cascade treefrog (L. pearsoniana), peppered frog (L. piperata), red-eyed green tree frog (L. chloris). Fish: Osylean pygmy perch (Nannoperca oxleyana). More detailed assessment of the impacts of fires on the Outstanding Universal Value of the site is underway (State Party of Australia, 2020). Management of fire in a biodiverse mosaic of forest types is challenging. The serial nature of the World Heritage site, and high boundary to area ratio, increases the complexity of fire management, which is undertaken in consultation with neighbours and the bushfire management authorities in each state. Recent research has demonstrated the flammability of rainforest fuels in cool temperate rainforests, highlighting the critical role of moisture levels in protecting rainforest communities from fire (Peacock, unpublished data). A recent assessment of current and projected change in lifting condensation level (cloud base) suggests additional moisture loss from a rising cloud base is possible (Narsey et al., 2020).
Strategies to manage these pest animals are incorporated in national parks management plans and implemented in cooperation with neighbours as part of tenure blind approach to pest management through regional pest management strategies and plans in NSW (IUCN Consultation, 2017). A controversial exotic invader is also the European Bee, which competes for nectar with native nectivores and occupies tree hollows that are used by native animals.
A consequence of the wildfires of 2019-2020 is that in many locations the density of the vegetation was greatly reduced. This favours introduced predators and compromises the capacity of the native animals to escape and seek shelter. This is a cumulative impact of the fires, animals that survived the fire needed to move more widely to obtain food and shelter, but are prone to predation in the opened vegetation communities.
Unfortunately the reality of this threat was evidenced in 2019-2020 with the widespread wildfires that burnt an estimated 51% of the World Heritage site. Some of the components were severely affected (DPIE, 2020; DAWE, 2020; Dickman et al., 2020). While longer-term impacts and recovery prospects are still being evaluated (State Party of Australia, 2020), it is clear that given the predicted further change in the climatic conditions, this threat will only continue to increase.
The importance of providing interconnection among some of the isolated components and a buffer zone to enable more effective and targeted asset management is demonstrated by the wildfires of 2019-2020 that effected many of the components and large areas of surrounding forested lands. Interconnection would provide for greater protection of the Outstanding Universal Value, by providing a security for migration routes at times of wildfire and as means to recolonize following fire (IUCN Consultation, 2020b).
However, there is limited understanding of the impacts of increasing visitation and tourism development, both at a whole-of-site and at a nuanced level such as the impacts of varying types of visitor experiences and variation across the World Heritage site. High standards of visitor management require greater monitoring and measurement of the impacts of visitor behaviour on a range of ecological and cultural variables that capture World Heritage values. This monitoring of impacts would enable a more informed approach to setting visitor limits, restricting certain activities, and regulating development (IUCN Consultation, 2020b).
Another example of strategic research is a current high level research project investigating the impact of climate change on cloud layer elevation and moisture acquisition by upland rainforest plant communities. This investigation involves the collaboration of the Australia Bureau of Meteorology, the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation and the Queensland Herbarium, funded by the National Environment Science Program (Narsey et al. 2020). There is a need of a detailed inventory of research and an identification of research priorities to support the management and protection of the World Heritage sitey (IUCN Consultation, 2020a).
Most of the reserves in the Gondwana Rainforests are located along the Great Eastern Escarpment behind the coastal plains, forming the mountain backdrop to a rapidly growing residential and tourist population. Those parts of the reserves that are easily accessible from the major population centres have high visitor values and provide outstanding settings for recreation and tourism.
The dramatic landscapes, waterfalls and lush forests of the Gondwana Rainforests attract a wide range of visitors seeking unique nature-based experiences. A diversity of activities are undertaken by visitors depending on the features and facilities within each reserve, including short walks, picnics, scenic drives, long-distance walks, mountain-bike riding and camping. Nature observation, bird watching and photography are popular activities across the diverse collection of reserves.
Park visitor centres have been established within and outside the Gondwana Rainforests in Dorrigo (NSW), Lamington (Qld) and Sea Acres (NSW) national parks. High-quality interpretive displays featuring the World Heritage site have also been installed in other reserves and nearby towns (Extracts from the updated Gondwana Rainforests Strategic Plan (in prep.).
The continuity of knowledge and use of these sites by First Nations people form the basis for native title claims under the provisions of the Native Title Act 1993.
Research is currently conducted across the Gondwana Rainforests by a variety of people and groups from diverse fields, including international researchers and local universities. Several of the reserves in the Gondwana Rainforests have an established history of providing field sites for students from tertiary, secondary and primary education institutions.
The high scientific value of the Gondwana Rainforests reflects what has been discovered and what remains to be discovered. New species are still being identified and the unique relationships of the biota over the aeons is still being discovered.
The site is a natural laboratory for a wide range of scientific questions generating new knowledge and for providing education to the public.
While the significant Aboriginal cultural and spiritual values associated with this site were not part of the reasons for its inscription on the World Heritage List, the local as well as national and international community benefits from their conservation in this site.
|№||Organization||Project duration||Brief description of Active Projects|
|1||Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney||Rainforest Seed Project.|
|2||Friends of Gondwana Forest||Cave Creek Rainforest Rehabilitation Scheme (adjacent to Springbrook NP)|
|3||Christmas Creek Landcare creek restoration||Christmas Creek Landcare creek restoration (private properties adjoining Lamington National Park) |
|4||NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service||Conservation programmes and projects are carried out within each component reserve of the World Heritage site consistent with reserve management plans, fire management plans, and regional pest management strategies. These projects include weed control, erosion control, bush regeneration projects, fire management including protection of fire-sensitive vegetation and refugia, feral animal control programs, research and monitoring. These programmes and projects are developed and implemented in partnership with community groups, Aboriginal partners, academic institutions, contractors and citizen science groups. Post fire assessment of the impacts of the 2019-20 wildfires on the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, including ground-truthing of satellite mapping and modelling is continuing. Funding has been provided for Bushfire Recovery program for threatened species to control impact of pest and weed species and support fire management projects. |
|5||Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service||Conservation programmes and projects are carried out within each component reserve of the World Heritage site consistent with reserve management plans, fire management plans, and pest management strategies. These programs and projects are developed and implemented in partnership with community groups, Aboriginal partners, academic institutions and contractors and citizen science groups. Post fire assessment of the impacts of the 2019-20 wildfires on the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, including ground-truthing of satellite mapping and modelling is continuing. Funding has been provided for Bushfire Recovery program for threatened species to control impact of pest and weed species and support fire management projects.|
|6||NSW Saving Our Species program and NPWS partnership delivery including community technical and scientific expertise||Specific recovery actions are being undertaken at sites within the Gondwana Rainforests reserves for several threatened species. |
|7||NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Environment Energy and Science||Mapping and modelling of the extent and severity of the 2019-20 fires and undertaking recovery actions in partnership with reserve managers and natural resource management partners. Risk assessment of the impacts of the 2019-20 fires on the World Heritage values of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia Climate change adaptation plan for the World Heritage listed National Parks within the Tweed-Caldera Group of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia.|
|8||Queensland Department of Environment and Science||Assessment of the impacts of the recent 2019-20 fires on the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, including mapping and modelling and ground truthing of the extent and severity of the 2019-20 fires in the Queensland section of the Gondwana Rainforests. Specific recovery actions are being undertaken at sites within the Queensland Gondwana Rainforests reserves for several threatened species impacted by 2019-2020 bushfires. These projects include weed control, erosion control, bush regeneration projects, fire management including protection of fire-sensitive vegetation and refugia, feral animal control programs, research and monitoring. Some of these programs and projects are developed and implemented with partnerships. Threatened species post-fire recovery projects for priority species including Eastern bristlebird, rufous scrub-bird, Coxen's fig-parrot, Albert's lyrebird, glossy black cockatoo, brush-tailed rock-wallaby, New Holland mouse, Hastings River mouse, cascade treefrog, Fleay's barred frog, red-and-yellow mountain frog, spotted-tailed quoll and long-nosed potoroo, key at-risk invertebrates, Zieria montana, Bertya ernestiana, Tetramolopium vagans, Agiortia cicatricata, Euphrasia bella, Pimelea umbratica, Dendrobium schneiderae var. schneiderae, Leionema elatius subsp. beckleri, Pultenaea whiteana, Pseudanthus pauciflorus subsp. pauciflorus, Bulbophyllum weinthalii subsp. weinthalii, Leptospermum barneyense, Sarcochilus hartmannii, Hibbertia monticola, Brachyscome ascendens, Coopernookia scabridiuscula, Comesperma breviflorum, Muellerina myrtifolia, Sarcochilus weinthalii, Phlegmariurus varius, Gonocarpus hirtus and Clematis fawcettii. |
|9||Northern Tablelands Local Land Services in partnership with the NSW Environment and Energy and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service||Conservation projects in partnership with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and private landholders including assessment of the impacts of fires and the conservation status of species of significance for the Gondwana Rainforests including the Hastings River mouse and the rufous scrub bird.|
|10||North Coast Local Land Services in partnership with the NSW Environment and Energy and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service||Conservation projects in partnership with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and private landholders including assessment of the impacts of fires and the conservation status of species of significance for the Gondwana Rainforests including the Hastings River mouse, the rufous scrub bird and the eastern bristlebird. Control of lantana to support management of Bell Miner Associated Dieback.|
|11||Hunter Local Land Services in partnership with the NSW Environment and Energy and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service||Wild dog travel pathways and genetics, within Barrington Tops NP and surrounds - Applied research management project to be undertaken in partnership with the NSW Vertebrate Research Unit, Department of Primary Industry.|
|12||Queensland Health Land and Water in partnership with the Qld Department of Environment and Science and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service||Partnership projects with Traditional Owners, government, including the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, private industry, utilities and the community to support improve and protect South East Queensland’s environment including supporting post-fire recovery of reserves within the Queensland section of the Gondwana Rainforests.|
|13||NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Northern Rivers Fire and Biodiversity Consortium, Southern Cross University, University of NSW, Forestry Corporation and the Border Ranges Alliance.||Burning Hotspots - Gondwana Threatened Species and Fire project, including monitoring the recovery of threatened macropods following recent wildfires. |
|14||Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife with Northern Rivers Fire & Biodiversity Consortium Inc and Border Ranges Alliance (BRA)||Trails for tails: Restoring Pathways for Albert’s Lyrebird|
|15||University of Newcastle with the NSW Saving our species program and the NSW Environmental Trust||Improving conservation of vulnerable amphibian fauna in protected habitats|
|16||University of Newcastle with the NSW Saving our species program||Adaptive capacity in mountain-top frogs|
|17||University of New England with the NSW Saving our species program||Pollination systems as indicators of fire regime impacts – a study of thresholds |
|18||University if New South Wales through the Commonwealth Bushfire Recovery program||Building capacity for resilience and recovery of threatened ecological communities|
|19||NSW NPWS and University of Newcastle||Assessment of the impact of large vertebrate pests on the Montane Swamps, broad-toothed rat and Amphibians in Barrington Tops NP|
|20||University of Newcastle||Long-term monitoring of threatened stream frog communities, including assessment of the impact of the amphibian disease chytridiomycosis|
|21||University of Western Sydney in partnership with the NSW Environment and Energy and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service||Post-fire response of golden-tipped bat Phoniscus papuensis|
|22||Southern Cross University||Studies of the habitat features and the impact of climate warming on the mountain frog (Philoria kundagungan)|
|23||Jaliigirr Biodiversity Alliance Inc.||Jaliigirr landscape connections in the Great Eastern Ranges |
|24||Private land conservation||Multiple projects supported by local and state governments, non-government organisations and local landholders, e.g., Bulimbah Nature Refuge (Bulimba Creek Catchment Coordinating Association), Bartopia Nature Refuge, Land for Wildlife properties. |
|25||Border Ranges Biodiversity Alliance||Border Ranges climate corridor consolidation|
|26||Australian Rainforest Conservation Society||Springbrook Rainforest Restoration Project (and others)|
|27||Big Scrub Landcare||Conserving endangered lowland rainforest and its many threatened species in the Big Scrub Region of the NSW North Coast|
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