The rainforests of New South Wales are important storehouses of the State’s biological diversity and range from lush, subtropical forests of the eastern seaboard to the dry vine thickets of the semi-arid northwest slopes. Characterised by a closed and continuous tree canopy composed of relatively soft, horizontally-held leaves, each class of rainforest varies in structure, species composition, climate, soils and biogeography.
Rainforests occur in areas that are reliably moist, free from fire and have moderate to highly fertile soils. Comprised of a variety of broad-leaved evergreen trees, and very few eucalypts, rainforests represent relics of vegetation linked to other forests in the southern hemisphere. They contain many ‘primitive’ plants that are direct descendants of the earliest Gondwanan flowering forms.
Tree seedlings of rainforest plants are able to successfully establish in deep shade and enter a state of dormancy until a gap in the canopy is formed, usually due to the death and fall of older trees. Species compete for the new space and light in a perpetual process known as ‘gap-phase dynamics’. This is in contrast to other vegetation formations, which rely on stochastic events such as fire, flood or drought-breaking rain to drive regeneration.
Aboriginal people used the resources of rainforests for food, fishing and hunting nets and in ceremonial feasts. The arrival of European settlers saw vast tracts of rainforest felled for red cedar Toona ciliata, white beech Gmelina leichhardtii and hoop pine Araucaria cunninghamii, while the highly fertile soils were cleared for agriculture. Social attitudes changed in response to greater appreciation for the aesthetic and scientific values of rainforests, and many isolated pockets became the focal point for public campaigning that ultimately led to widespread land use change and protection of the remaining remnants.
Rainforest Communities of the Lower Hunter
The remnant rainforest communities of the Lake Macquarie, Newcastle and Port Stephens Local Government Area tend to exist as relatively small and isolated pockets of rainforest species amongst a broader landscape of Open Forest reserves and coastal development.