Securing landscape resilience to tropical cyclones in Australia's Wet Tropics under a changing climate: lessons from Cyclones Larry (and Yasi)

Turton, Stephen M. (2012) Securing landscape resilience to tropical cyclones in Australia's Wet Tropics under a changing climate: lessons from Cyclones Larry (and Yasi). Geographical Research, 50 (1). pp. 15-30.

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Tropical cyclones are part of the ecosystem dynamics of rainforests in the Wet Tropics of Australia, and intact forest areas show remarkable ability to recover from cyclonic disturbance. However, forest remnants, littoral rainforests, and riparian vegetation have been shown to be particularly susceptible to cyclonic winds and post-disturbance weed invasion with consequences for their long-term conservation values. I evaluate the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones impacting the Wet Tropics region since records began in 1858. The recent Category 4 cyclones featured in this study, Larry and Yasi, had return intervals of about one in 70 years. I then discuss the natural resource management (NRM) lessons from Cyclone Larry and put forward practical recommendations on how authorities should deal with natural resources in the clean-up and recovery phases. I argue that natural resources must be treated as valuable commodities by including their protection and rehabilitation in the same way that human livelihoods, infrastructure and industry are covered in disaster management planning. This requires NRM issues to be included in disaster response policy and legislation, together with ensuring that structures are in place to mitigate the effects of cyclones on natural resources. There is a general consensus that tropical cyclone intensity will increase under climate change while frequency will decrease slightly. This has profound implications for the long-term sustainability of ecosystems in the Wet Tropics. There is a real risk of a phase shift to vegetation types dominated by disturbance species, including weeds, at the expense of cyclone intolerant species. It is therefore important that we begin to build more cyclone resilient landscapes to reduce the vulnerability of our remaining rainforest habitats and primary production systems. Securing landscape resilience requires greater NRM investment in key areas, including landscape connectivity, river repair, protecting coastal assets and cyclone resilient farms. While climate change poses a long-term threat to the rainforests of the region, we need to focus on more immediate pressures affecting our remaining biodiversity, notably clearing of native habitat, habitat fragmentation and degradation, and biosecurity issues.

Item ID: 25173
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1745-5871
Keywords: tropical cyclones; ecological effects; resilience; natural resources; biodiversity conservation; contested landscapes; climate change; rainforest
Funders: Rainforest Cooperative Research Centre, Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility, Skyrail Rainforest Foundation
Date Deposited: 06 Mar 2013 01:06
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050204 Environmental Impact Assessment @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9610 Natural Hazards > 961004 Natural Hazards in Forest and Woodlands Environments @ 100%
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