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Effects of a Severe Frost on Riparian Rainforest Restoration in the Australian Wet Tropics: Foliage Retention by Species and the Role of Forest Shelter


T. J. Curran, email


Restoration of ecological communities that can withstand future climate and land use changes requires information on species responses to various natural disturbances. Frost is an important disturbance that regulates plant species distributions, and although rare in tropical rainforest, it can occur in upland areas, especially where deforestation has occurred. We report the impacts of a severe frost that occurred in June and July 2007 on the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, Australia and caused extensive damage to riparian restoration plots of upland rainforest species. We estimated proportion foliage retention to (1) compare impacts across 45 species; (2) examine the influence of plant height on frost effects; and (3) determine if plantings under shelterbelts of mature trees received less damage. Species exhibited different levels of foliage retention. Species that were particularly frost resistant included those from riparian habitats and a conifer. Some heavily impacted species are deciduous and may survive frost by shedding leaves; this warrants further investigation. Plant canopy height above ground level was only weakly correlated to foliage retention. Sheltered plants were much less damaged than unsheltered conspecifics, suggesting a useful way to mitigate frost impacts. These principles should help guide the development of resilient ecological communities in frost-prone areas.