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Rainforest in Australia

Just prior to European settlement, the Australian rainforests covered only 4% of the continent, yet held 50% of our plant and animal species1. Although much reduced in size today, Australia's rainforests are still very significant and highly biodiverse.

When we hear the word 'rainforest', we usually think of a wet forest, with cloudy mornings that clear to sunshine before afternoon thunderstorms and monsoonal rain. However, rainforests are not only tropical, they also occur in cooler habitats at higher altitudes and latitudes and in drier areas that experience several months without rain. 

What is a rainforest?

The delineation of rainforest from other plant communities is primarily based on the plants, the life forms such as vines, lianas, buttress roots and epiphytes that are present, and the unique structural characteristics of the forest. Rainforests are mostly evergreen, with just a few semi-deciduous species. They are characterised by closed canopies and multiple layers made up of different height trees.
In Australia the major rainforest types include: 

  • tropical wet rainforest
  • sub-tropical wet rainforest
  • littoral (coastal) rainforest
  • seasonally drier rainforest and vine forest
  • temperate rainforest.

Although much reduced in size today, Australia’s rainforests are still very significant and highly biodiverse. They protect important landscapes, provide aesthetic and recreational values, hold major cultural significance, and maintain important ecosystem services, for example, by protecting catchments and providing clean, fresh water.

  1. Kitching, R., Braithwaite, R., Cavanaugh, J. (2010) The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia - Introduction. In Remnants of Gondwana: A natural and social history of the Gondwana Rainforest of Australia. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Baulkham Hills Australia. 

Rainforest structure

A large emergent tropical rainforest tree festooned with epiphytes, vines and climbing palms (Rattans) and surrounded by trees of different size and height. Image: Rob Kooyman.