Queensland wet tropics

Country/Territory Australia
Area 32,000 km2
Altitude 0 - 1600m
Priority urgent
Habitat loss moderate
Knowledge good

General characteristics

Lying largely between Cooktown and Townsville in the north-east of Australia, this EBA comprises mountains and plateaus (the tablelands) which slope steeply to the coast; Hinchinbrook Island is also included within it. The land is (or was) covered in tropical rain forests, fringed and dissected by other habitats including various woodland types, mangroves and swamps.

The region has more forest-dependent endemic vertebrates than any other area in Australia, most being confined to the cool, wet rain forests above c.400 m. The EBA has been defined to embrace most of the known records of the restricted-range bird species (from Blakers et al. 1984) and their predicted bioclimatic domain (from Nix and Switzer 1991).

Restricted-range species

All the restricted-range birds occur in rain forest and eight are restricted to the more temperate highland zone . Although most restricted-range species occur widely within the EBA, the areas occupied by the 13 endemics have been estimated to range from only 1,500 to 10,000 km2 (G. N. Harrington in litt. 1993).

Australian Swiftlet Collocalia terraereginae, which occurs in this EBA and Cape York (EBA 181), is treated as a form of the more widespread White-rumped Swiftlet C. spodiopygia (following Christidis and Boles 1994, contra Sibley and Monroe 1993) and is therefore not included here as a restricted-range species.

Species IUCN Category
Lesser Sooty-owl (Tyto multipunctata) LC
Tooth-billed Bowerbird (Scenopoeetes dentirostris) LC
Golden Bowerbird (Prionodura newtoniana) LC
Lovely Fairy-wren (Malurus amabilis) LC
Macleay's Honeyeater (Xanthotis macleayanus) LC
Yellow-spotted Honeyeater (Meliphaga notata) LC
Bridled Honeyeater (Bolemoreus frenatus) LC
Fernwren (Oreoscopus gutturalis) LC
Atherton Scrubwren (Sericornis keri) LC
Mountain Thornbill (Acanthiza katherina) LC
Chowchilla (Orthonyx spaldingii) LC
Bower's Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla boweri) LC
Pied Monarch (Arses kaupi) LC
Victoria's Riflebird (Lophorina victoriae) LC
Pale-yellow Robin (Tregellasia capito) LC
(Heteromyias cinereifrons) NR

Important Bird Areas (IBAs)
IBA Code Site Name Country
Coastal Wet Tropics Australia
Daintree Australia
Paluma Australia
Wooroonooran Australia

Threat and conservation

Most lowland forest has been cleared for sugar-cane plantations, while the flatter parts of the uplands have been turned into pasture. In total c.20% of the original forest has been felled; remaining forest covers only c.8,000 km2, largely on mountains, with remnant patches in the lowlands (Collins et al. 1991).

Today c.90% of the remaining forest is protected by the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA), where all logging has been stopped, although the variety of land tenures embraced by the area has resulted in a mosaic of management practices, with only 29% covered by national parks and managed explicitly for conservation. Concerns focus on the very poor representation of relatively undisturbed lowland forest in existing reserves and the fear that further fragmentation could preclude their viability (WWF/IUCN 1994-1995). Conservation challenges and opportunities, such as reforestation and control of non-native species, are outlined by, e.g., Laurance (1993) and Crome (1993).

Outside the WTWHA, there are still important areas of rain forest in private freehold that are likely to be cleared in the future. Notably there is forest at 800-1,200 m on the Atherton tableland (in the Millaa Millaa-Malanda-Ravenshoe area); this is already fragmented, but still retains all the endemic birds. There is also lowland rain forest at Daintree which has been divided into housing blocks but which is still relatively intact. Other sites which have been identified as particularly important within this EBA are Mission Beach, Mt Hypopamee Crater National Park, Mt Lewis, Windsor tableland, Mt Baldy State Forest and Mt Whitfield (G. N. Harrington in litt. 1993).

The three endemic species which have the smallest ranges (an area of occupancy estimated to be less than 2,000 km2) have been classified as Conservation Dependent: this non-threatened category is applied where the cessation of a conservation programme (in this case the integrity of the WTWHA) would result in the species qualifying for one of the threatened categories. An additional six species with small ranges (2,000-3,000 km2) have been classified as Near Threatened.

Other species of particular note in this EBA include the endemic eastern subspecies of Rufous Owl Ninox rufa queenslandica which is identified as threatened by Garnett (1993), and the widespread Southern Cassowary Casuarius casuarius of Australia and New Guinea which is classified as Vulnerable. In this region, C. casuarius is estimated to have a population of 1,500-3,000 individuals, but has declined in most areas where rain forest has been cleared or fragmented (Garnett 1993).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Endemic Bird Areas factsheet: Queensland wet tropics. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 23/05/2022.