Secondary forests are forests that are regenerating largely through natural processes after clearing or disturbance of the original forest vegetation. The following four articles provide a summary of research completed as part of an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Projects grant: ‘Accelerating species richness gains and carbon sequestration in secondary regrowth in North Queensland’. The ARC Linkage Partners included: James Cook University, Queensland Herbarium, Wet Tropics Management Authority and BIOME5 Pty Ltd.
The research focus was on the Atherton Tableland of North Queensland. Following European settlement in the 1870s much of the rainforest in this area was cleared for cattle grazing. The dairy industry has been in steep decline in recent decades with a 91% reduction in the number of dairy farms operating on the Atherton Tableland being recorded between 1959 and 2005. Associated with this downturn of the dairy industry there has been widespread abandonment of grazing land, which has in turn allowed the expansion of secondary forests to occur see Sloan et al.
The second article looks at tree, shrub and liana species diversity in a number of Secondary forests sites ranging in age between 3 and 60 years. With increasing age, the structure and composition of secondary forests gradually increase in complexity and provide increasing ecological services such as carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation see Goosem et al.
This pattern of tropical rainforests being cleared and subsequently abandoned allowing secondary forests to regenerate is occurring across the tropics. Secondary regrowth on abandoned land across the tropics globally covers approximately 350,000 km2, and is one of its fastest growing environments. Tropical abandoned lands offer important large-scale opportunities to increase carbon storage and conserve biodiversity. In the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area 2321ha of secondary forest is protected, while another 27,502ha is found outside of protected areas. Secondary forests generally occur around the boundaries of the World Heritage Area and also offer an important buffer against threatening processors.
However, the natural regeneration of rainforest is a slow process and is frequently suppressed by woody weed competition see Tng et al. or can possibly become arrested in a state dominated by a single native tree species. See Yeo et al.