Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and Phenology

Skyrail News: February 2012

Cairns Post - 20 February, Article by Laura Packham

 The popular tourist attraction, located about 15km northwest of Cairns, will be the focus of a research paper detailing revolutionary new methods of data collection in the Barron Gorge and Daintree Rainforest.

Lead researchers Associate Prof Mike Liddell of James Cook University and Prof Caroline Gross of the University of New England have worked in partnership with Skyrail and the Cairns Regional Council since 2009 to investigate the correlation between climate change and the rainforest plants' flowering and fruiting patterns.

In an effort to ease the strenuous means of gathering data, research has been conducted along the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, as well as from a canopy crane at Cape Tribulation.

Dr Liddell said previous methods could literally be a pain in the neck for researchers.

"There's nowhere that has really taken this approach before," he said.

"The typical method involves a person standing on the ground with a pair of binoculars peering up to try to figure out what the tree is and what it is doing.

"It was the idea of Bob Jago, at Cairns Regional Council, to use Skyrail, as otherwise we'd have to have part of our budget allocated to physiotherapy for the person staring through the binoculars who would usually end up on physio for neck damage afterwards."

Skyrail employees have participated in the project and used a maintenance gondola and a high-resolution digital camera to take between 1200 to 1400 pictures along the cableway once a month.

The Cape Tribulation canopy crane at the Daintree Rainforest Observatory has allowed researchers to get a closer look at rainforest trees.

The access provided by the crane has also made it easier to collect and analyse plant samples.

Dr Liddell said at least a decade of research was needed before they could begin to analyse the data to identify any climate change and its effect on rainforest flora.

With a predicted temperature rise of 4C by 2085, Dr Liddell said many rainforest plants might not be able to handle such extreme conditions.

"That is something that the plants are going to find very challenging," he said.

"At the moment, the Cape Tribulation site is tentatively indicating that the mean temperature is moving upwards but it is still within the comfort range of the plants.

"Assuming the climate predictions are right and we get a drier wet season and warmer conditions, this is going to cause some problems for the plant community."

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