Wet sclerophyll forests of Guanaba Forest – fauna, flora, fire

Magical towering eucalypt giants – symbols of Australia’s amazing wet sclerophyll forests. But they’re not all you’ll find in these beautiful forests, which contain rich understorey, soft-leaved shrubs, ferns and herbs and an incredible collection of fauna.

Biology of a wet sclerophyll forest

Wet sclerophyll forest in Guanaba ForestWet sclerophyll forests, often caught between rainforests and more open woodlands, are important habitat for an array of fauna, from marsupials to birds and bats and from insects to snakes, lizards and frogs.

Wet sclerophyll forests, when neighboured by rainforests, will include a mix of rainforest and sclerophyll forest plants where there exists overlap between the two forest types.

Sclerophylls generally occur in places with high rainfall (more than 900mm per year) and with a summer temperature exceeding 30 degrees Celsius and a winter mean temperature of less than 5 degrees Celsius.

Where are wet sclerophyll forests found?Bleeding Heart Tree (Omalanthus populifolius)

In Australia, wet sclerophyll forests are found in all states and territories except South Australian and the Northern Territory.

In Queensland, wet sclerophyll forests are mostly found in the south east part of the State (such as Tamborine Mountain) and, to a much smaller extent, the wet tropics.

What do wet sclerophyll forests look like?

Eucalypts and understorey in wet sclerophyll forests Gunaba ForestWet sclerophyll forests can be distinguished by their mix of very tall eucalypts (such as Flooded Gums) and a rich understorey of soft-leaved plants, many of which are rainforest plants.

The canopy, while open, has leaves that often interlock, leaving little light for the understorey. As well as a reduction in light, the leafy canopy creates a high level of humidity. This blend of low light and humidity provides good growing conditions for a range of mid-story plants that are effective light collectors. This second story of tightly growing plants enables the emergence of the next range of plants prevalent in wet sclerophyll forests, such as tree ferns and vines.

Fires in wet sclerophyll forests

Wet sclerophyll forests can combust easily, with a combustion rate dictated by the wet / dry weather. The peak fire season for sclerophylls in South East Queensland is between late spring and early summer.

Fires in wet sclerophyll forests have a direct and devastating impact on the wildlife, especially if the forest has been fragmented by human encroachment.

(Ref: “Wet sclerophyll forest: Regrowth Benefits – Management Guideline”, Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts; Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities 2010; p27.)

Eastern Bristlebirds, in particular, have been the unlucky victims of fires in wet sclerophyll habitat, their populations having dramatically decreased in South East Queensland and north east NSW due to uncontrolled fire.

(Ref: “Wet sclerophyll forest: Regrowth Benefits – Management Guideline”, Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts; Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities 2010; p27.)

A fire in Guanaba Forest

While Guanaba Forest comprises rainforest and open grassy forest, most of the property comprises at least two to three different types of fire prone wet sclerophyll forest. This type of forest falls within the highest fire rating of 10 according to the State’s bushfire planning policy, a rating that increases when the property’s geography and aspect are taken into account.

Residents neighbouring Guanaba Forest give an account of a serious fire that occurred in 2003, where fire impacted on a major portion of the property’s 500 acres and threatened nearby properties and homes. After the fire charged out of control, it took urban and rural firefighters 10 days of dedicated effort to bring it under control and guarantee the safety of surrounding properties.

Residents living around Guanaba Forest are deeply concerned about the increased fire risk introduced by the proposed development, where open pit fires are proposed within forest areas.

Animals of wet sclerophyll forests

Red-necked Wallaby in Guanaba ForestWet sclerophyll forests house an amazing variety of flora and fauna. Depending on the time of year, some animal species from both woodland forests and rainforests will move into and take advantage of sclerophyll habitat.

The older trees in sclerophylls develop hollows over time, creating habitat for a range of tree-dwelling animals, such as possums, owls, bats, parrots, kookaburras, pardalotes and more. (Young, regenerating forests cannot offer this type of vital habitat for animals requiring tree hollows to breed.)

Mammals found in sclerophylls include:Koala climbing tree in Guanaba Forest

– Koalas
– Fruit Bats
– Possums
– Grey-headed Flying Foxes
– Forest Bats
– Swamp Wallabies
– Red-necked Wallabies
– Antechinuses
– Tiger Quolls (Spotted-tailed Quoll)
– Platypuses (Platypi)

Birds found in sclerophylls include:Barred Cuckoo Shrike in Guanaba Forest

– Albert’s Lyrebirds
– Torresian Crows
– Pied Currawongs
– Pied Butcherbirds
– Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes
– Barred Cuckoo-shrikes
– Wonga Pigeons
– Eastern Spinebills
– Pheasant Coucals
– Powerful Owls
– Grey-winged Goshawks
– Crimson Rosellas
– Red-backed Fairy-wrens.

Frogs and reptiles found in sclerophylls include:Frog Pearsons Tree Frog in Guanaba Forest

– Pearson’s Treefrogs
– Tusked Frogs
– Peron’s Treefrogs
– Green Treefrogs
– Red-bellied Black Snakes
– Diamond Pythons
– Land Mullets
– Lace Monitors.

Invertebrates found in sclerophylls include:Garden Orb Spider in Guanaba Forest

– Red-triangle Slugs
– Leeches
– Garden Orb Weaving Spiders
– Golden Orb Weaving Spiders
– Christmas Beetles
– Cicadas
– Giant Earthworms (Digaster longmani).

Species list ref: Wet sclerophyll forests: Steve Parish NatureConnect.

Bangalow Palms with eucalypts in Guanaba Forest

Wet sclerophyll forests offer biodiverse ecosytems – places where a variety of plants and animals thrive. There are few of these ecosystems left in Australia, and those remaining are under pressure from increased human activity. It’s time to protect the remaining wet sclerophyll forests to guarantee their legacy for generations to come.

More information:

Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts: Wet sclerophyll forest: Regrowth Benefits – Management Guideline (PDF)

Wet Tropics: Wet sclerophyll forests

Office of Environment and Heritage NSW: Wet sclerophyll forests (grassy sub-formation

Steve Parish: Nature Connect: Wet sclerophyll forests

Victorian Ecosystems: Wet sclerophyll forests

The Internet IBC Bird Collection: Sounds of the Bristlebird