PARK WATCH Article November 2022 |

Ecologist Meghan Lindsay discusses the extraordinary beauty and biodiversity in our cool temperate rainforests.

You’ve heard a lot this year about Cool Temperate Rainforest because of the proposed mountain bike track network in Yarra Ranges National Park – but what exactly is Cool Temperate Rainforest?

Cool Temperate Rainforests are a unique plant community that, along with other types of rainforests, dominated our continent 65 million years ago. They can be visited any season, with special fungi to spot in autumn and a cool microclimate underneath the dense canopy to retreat to on a hot summer’s day. 

These incredible rainforests are habitat for magnificent plants such as ancient Myrtle Beech, Southern Sassafras and gorgeous ferns including the Hard Water Fern (Blechnum wattsii), Slender Tree Fern (Cyathea cunninghamii) and Soft Tree Fern (Dicksonia antarctica). This unique forest type is also home to incredible animal species, such as the Mount Donna Buang Wingless Stonefly (Riekoperla darlingtoni), the carnivorous Gippsland Black Snail (Victaphanta atramentaria) and the Sooty Owl (Tyto tenebricosa). They provide important refuges after bushfire for many animals including the globally revered Superb Lyrebird.

I always feel a sense of awe walking through rainforest of the Yarra Ranges, it’s a place I visit when I need a quiet, peaceful walk to reflect and recharge. I love to spend time admiring the ancient Myrtle Beech (Nothofagus cunninghamii), carpets of moss and calls of a nearby Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae). 

Mature cool temperate rainforests are  dominated by a canopy of Myrtle Beech, Southern Sassafras (Atherosperma moschatum) and Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon), with no ‘emergent’ Eucalypt trees. The understorey is dominated by tree ferns and ground ferns. 

They can be found across Victoria in parks such as the Dandenong Ranges National Park, Great Otway National Park, Tarra-Bulga National Park and Yarra Ranges National Park. Even though it can still be found in a range of parks across the state, historic land clearing, fire and logging have reduced the amount of these forests in Victoria (a mere 0.08% of the state’s total area). They’re  listed as a threatened community under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988), as they continue to face the threat of extinction.

Cool Temperate Rainforests take a very long time to recover from fire and what remains of it in Victoria is in areas that have escaped frequent fires in the past, such as protected gullies. Increased occurrence of bushfires due to climate change is putting their future in Victoria at risk. Disturbance and development, such as the proposed mountain bike track network in the Yarra Ranges National Park and current logging practices are also major threats. Other threats include by introduced pests like feral deer, Myrtle Wilt (Chalara australis) and weeds such as Wandering Trad (Tradescantia fluminensis).

Next time you visit a Cool Temperate Rainforest, take a few minutes to stop and appreciate this incredible plant community. Breathe in the damp, earthy smells. Admire the thousand shades of green displayed across the trees, ferns, mosses and lichens. Listen for the call of a Superb Lyrebird in the distance. PW

Image: Meghan Lindsay