Re­cov­ery seeds of doubt

Townsville Bulletin - - News - by John An­der­sen john. an­der­sen@ townsville­bul­letin. com. au

THOU­SANDS of hectares of near-pris­tine rain­for­est in ‘‘ Cy­clone Al­ley’’ might never re­cover from the belt­ing it took from the Cat­e­gory Five weather sys­tem called Yasi.

Huge swaths of rain­for­est in­clud­ing the might­i­est trees were felled in winds close to 300km/ h on the night of Fe­bru­ary 2 and early in the morn­ing of Fe­bru­ary 3.

In the area en­com­pass­ing and sur­round­ing what is known as the army’s jun­gle train­ing fa­cil­ity on the Tully Gorge road, the moun­tain­ous r a i nf o r e s t was v i r t ual l y cleared by the rak­ing winds which re­duced for­est gi­ants and the smaller un­der-storey to match­wood.

Pro­fes­sor Steve Tur­ton from James Cook Univer­sity’s Earth and En­vi­ron­men­tal Science Depart­ment said the Cat­e­gory Five cy­clone had done enor­mous dam­age to rain­for­est in the area be­tween Cairns and Card­well he de­scribed as ‘‘ Cy­clone Al­ley’’.

‘‘ Much of the area be­tween Cairns and Card­well hadn’t fully re­cov­ered from Cy­clone Larry in 2006,’’ he said.

Rain­for­est fo­liage in ru­ins

‘‘ I call this area Cy­clone Al­ley, be­cause it seems to get more cy­clones than the Dain­tree area fur­ther north.’’

Dr Dan Met­calfe, prin­ci­pal re­search sci­en­tist with the CSIRO at Ather­ton, said the low­land rain­forests had been more badly dam­aged in Yasi than in Cy­clone Larry. He said the flat­ten­ing of the rain­for­est by the cy­clonic winds would trig­ger a seed­ing re­sponse in a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of species which might not have other­wise had the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pand their range.

He said the cy­clone, for these species, pre­sented an op­por­tu­nity t o f ruit and fur­ther es­tab­lish their pres­ence in the habi­tat.

He said that a big threat now, par­tic­u­larly in low­land ar­eas – where smaller, isol a t e d p o c k e t s h a d b e e n knocked over – was weed in­va­sion.

Dr Met­calfe said the event, for rain­for­est trees – which lived for 500 to 600 years – was one of those things the s pecies would en­counter from time to time.

Prof Tur­ton said the rain­for­est in the ma­jor-im­pact ar­eas of Mis­sion Beach, Tully and Card­well was ‘‘ hy­per-dis­turbed’’, but was as­ton­ish­ingly re­silient.

He said it would take ‘‘ a long time’’ for the rain­for­est to come back, adding there were no guar­an­tees some sec­tions would re­cover.

He said there were con­cerns some of the rain­for­est – par­tic­u­larly in ar­eas still re­cov­er­ing f rom Cy­clone Larry – would ever make a full re­cov­ery.

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