Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, Australia — Preliminary studies examining the predicted impacts of global warming on the endemic vertebrates of the Australian tropical rainforests suggest that climate change could bring about catastrophic extinctions here, and by implication, in mountain systems around the world. For example, using an average prediction for climate change, 60% of rainforest species could become endangered or critically endangered during the course of this century. The situation for the 73 species of vertebrates that are found here and nowhere else in the world is even bleaker - 50% are likely to become extinct in the same time period.
As temperatures warm, animals living in “islands” of cooler mountaintop habitat will be forced ever higher, until they run out of mountain. Other rainforest life may be restricted from shifting their range due to barriers from land clearing, roads and fences, weeds or feral animals. Preparing to conserve rainforest biodiversity in the face of these enormous changes will require a deeper understanding of the current ranges and populations of forest creatures. Help Prof Stephen Williams (James Cook University) measure the distribution and abundance of animals in the unrivalled Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, and help shape the scientific response to climate change.
Meet the Scientists
Prof Stephen Williams
James Cook University
Prof Stephen (Steve) Williams is a rainforest ecologist specialising in terrestrial vertebrates and biodiversity. He is Director of the Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change, which is co-funded by James Cook University, the Queensland state government, the federal government and Earthwatch. Steve has always found tropical rainforests fascinating and did his Ph.D. research on patterns of vertebrate biodiversity, with an emphasis on mammals, in the Australian Wet Tropics. He completed his Ph.D. in 1997 and since then has expanded on this research by doing enormous amounts of fieldwork in the region. He has designed and led many fauna surveys and expeditions to remote and rugged areas – often involving helicopter drops into inaccessible places – in order to fill gaps in the knowledge of these wild mountains. Recently, Steve has been involved in spatial modelling as a tool to study biodiversity and this has led to using models to predict the impacts of climate change in the region. The results of this analysis were so shocking that he has switched the focus of his research program to understanding the likely impacts of climate change on rainforest biodiversity. He hopes this research will make a difference in the long-term preservation of the unique rainforests that he loves.