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  • Locations: Atherton Tablelands, Australia
  • Program Terms: Academic Year, Fall, Spring, Summer
  • Homepage: Click to visit
  • Program Sponsor: The School for Field Studies (SFS) 
  • This program is currently not accepting applications.
Fact Sheet:
Fact Sheet:
Click here for a definition of this term Study Abroad Advisor: Contact for your regional staff advisor

Click here for a definition of this term Program Type: Outside Program
Program Description:

Tropical Rainforest Studies


Rainforests are one of the world's most important and diverse ecosystems, yet thousands of acres disappear each day. Along with the loss and fragmentation of rainforest areas, global climate change may be playing an important role in influencing the loss of plant and animal species. Predictions for many endemic species and some vital ecosystems are indeed quite bleak.

For thousands of years the tropical rainforest of Queensland has been home to about 18 indigenous tribes, along with numerous primitive plant species, birds, and marsupials found nowhere else in the world. Giant strangler figs, abundant vines and epiphytes, large pythons, colorful parrots, giant cassowary, bandicoots, and tree kangaroos fill these forests with color, sound, and complexity. Northeastern Queensland's ancient rainforests preserve millions of years of evolutionary history, though sadly, these repositories have been greatly affected by habitat loss, fragmentation, and climate change. The eastern seaboard of northern Australia once supported extensive rainforests, but logging, mining, and extensive agricultural production have destroyed and disrupted rainforest habitats and the traditional land of Aboriginal people. Today, over much of the area, only fragments of the original forests remain.

Australia confronted the threat of rainforest loss much faster than most tropical countries, but the integrity and survival of these rainforests hinge upon developing solutions that consider larger-scale impacts, including global climate change, yet also provide economic benefits for the local community.


Work with local tree-planting groups and research organizations and learn from members of the indigenous community to manage forest resources. Learn about the current condition and dynamics of a tropical rainforest ecosystem, including what might be happening to this system as a consequence of global climate change. Participate in research and community projects to restore tropical rainforests. Explore some of the most exciting natural wonders of Australia.

Australia Program Description

While representing only a small percentage of the world's rainforest, the astonishing biodiversity of Australia's rainforest and the country's dynamic conservation efforts make Queensland an extraordinary laboratory for studying rainforest management and restoration. Recent cyclones have further disturbed the remaining rainforest fragments, raising questions on how to manage these hyper-disturbed areas. Conservation challenges and cutting-edge management strategies developed here will likely serve as a model for conserving the rest of the world's tropical rainforests.

The ecological and economic benefits of rainforests are increasingly well-understood, but much less is known about rainforest ecosystem dynamics and the ability to restore a rainforest once it has been cleared. Our goals are to help understand the dynamics of rainforest ecosystems, including potential impacts of global climate change, and in turn develop rainforest restoration strategies that benefit both ecosystems and human communities.

Student research work addresses a critical local and regional environmental problem, loss and fragmentation of once extensive rainforests, and the environmental policies that are currently under consideration by the local and Commonwealth governments. SFS staff and students, in collaboration with local landholders and stakeholder organizations, focus on enhancing the condition of tropical rainforests, as well as determining how and why we should regenerate and restore the rainforest on the Atherton Tablelands. Students collect data on potential responses to global climate change, habitat use and animal behaviors, resilience to cyclonic events, land use, local resident involvement in restoration projects, and cost effective and ecologically beneficial methods of restoration. Student work represents a vital contribution toward larger studies on global climate change, biological integrity of rainforest fragments, and developing restoration practices to maximize rates of plant growth and colonization by fauna. Students are actively involved in either rainforest replanting or site maintenance with local landcare groups.

Field Research, Lectures, and Exercises

  • Chillagoe: camp in the Outback and explore caves, rock formations, remnant dry rainforests, and eucalypt savannah. Learn firsthand about the history of the Barbaram people.
  • Cape Tribulation: hike through lowland rainforests, giant sedges with peppermint stick insects, mangrove forests, and palm forests; traverse the Daintree River, notorious for its crocodiles; visit the canopy tower at the Daintree Environment Centre; sample and examine an array of forest types across the landscape.
  • Visit the TREAT nursery.
  • Learn about the geology of the Atherton Tablelands.
  • Seedling recruitment of restored tropical rainforest at revegetation sites.
  • Examine growth and mortality of tropical rainforest species.
  • Sample plant functional traits and their effect on drought and cyclone resistance.
  • Examine fauna in endangered plant communities.

Student Directed Research Project Examples

  • Using plant functional traits to predict drought and cyclone resistance
  • Micro bat use of rainforest fragments
  • Use of restored and natural rainforests by rainforest birds.
  • Patterns of colonization of restored rainforest by vertebrates.
  • Determining carbon sequestration values of rainforest restoration.
  • Monitoring the Peterson Creek revegetation project.
  • Evaluating policy instruments that are used to tackle environmental problems.

Student Research Contributions

  • Understanding local views on the ecological and socioeconomic challenges facing the community of North Queensland is key. Our on-going research and close ties with community stakeholders allow students to make meaningful contributions including:
  • Assisting community members with planting more than 15,000 trees over the last few years, some of which were grown from seed at our field station, to restore degraded forests, improve water quality and sequester carbon, through plantings around watersheds.
  • Assessment of tree seedling recruitment and growth working towards recommending best practices for achieving a successful restoration.
  • Assisting community members with restoration of more than one mile of rainforest from grassland along the lower Peterson Creek.

Get Involved with the Local Community

Conservation, resource use, and rainforest restoration are extremely important to local farmers, resource managers, and concerned community groups. With the results of our research, we offer advice to local decision-makers and create linkages between our staff and the stakeholders involved in rainforest restoration and management. SFS students enjoy getting involved in community volunteer projects and social activities such as:

  • Meeting with Aboriginal elders of the Yidinji, Ngadjon Jii, and Barbaram tribe to learn more about their culture and their effort to reclaim their role in land management.
  • Learning how to make and play their own didgeridoos with an Aboriginal family, who share their perspectives on Aboriginal culture with students.
  • Community service trips to help local conservation groups and communities plant rainforest seedlings.
  • Participating in annual community fauna surveys such as the crane count (October) and spectacled flying-fox counts (November).
  • Attending special lectures on tree kangaroos, spectacled flying fox, rock wallaby, cassowary, and other local wildlife in conjunction with local conservation groups.
  • Hosting community dinners and participating in short home stays.
  • Bush dances, community festivals, visiting the Malanda theatre, socializing at the local pubs and sporting competitions, such as lawn bowling with Aussies.

Program Prerequisites

Applicants for semester programs must be at least 18 years of age, in good academic standing, and have completed at least one college-level ecology or biology course and at least one semester of college prior to the start of the program.

Applicants for summer programs must be at least 16 years of age, in good academic standing, and have completed at least their junior year of high school prior to the start of the program. For more information on our summer program in Australia.


The Center for Rainforest Studies lies at the southern end of the Atherton Tablelands in the heart of the traditional land of the Yidinji people. Protected World Heritage forests and farmland surround the rolling, tropical site. A third of the property's 153 acres is mature rainforest within which the student cabins are nestled. Sightings of tropical birds, bandicoots, pademelons, primitive musky rat kangaroo, amethystine pythons, and other unique rainforest species are common. The site is alive with the sounds of the rainforest. Students share comfortably furnished eight- person cabins with adjacent shower and bathroom facilities. The main building has a fully equipped computer laboratory, 24-hour Internet access, up-to-date scientific library, and a student common room. Our kitchen and cook provide nutritious, healthy menus to suit all tastes.

Visit our Web site for a photo tour of our field station:

Read about student experiences:


Semester students are registered in four academic courses accredited through Boston University

Course No.                Name                                                                    Credits

BI/EE (NS) 369          Rainforest Ecology                                                   04

BI/EE (NS) 370          Principles of Forest Management                               04

EE (SS) 302              Environmental Policy and Socioeconomic Values        04

EE 491 or 492           Directed Research                                                    04

Summer programs


                                         Session I                                           Session II

Dates:                           June 9 - July 8                                 July 14 - August 12

Departure Point:          Auckland, New Zealand &           Cairns, Australia

                                     Cairns, Australia

Course Number:         EE (NS) 355                                    EE (NS) 354

Credits:                        04                                                   04

Prerequisites               None                                              None

Tropical Rainforest Management Studies

Rainforest ecosystems are a hot spot for faunal and floral biodiversity and provide humans with clean air, water, food, and medicines, yet thousands of acres disappear each day. Large areas of northeastern Queensland were once covered in spectacular tropical rainforests, preserving millions of years of evolutionary history, but agricultural and residential development and possibly global climate change have destroyed and disrupted rainforest habitat, leaving only a fragmented belt.

Session I: Natural Resource Management in Australia and New Zealand

Students compare and contrast the ecological, geographical, social, economic, and historical factors that have shaped natural resource management in far north Queensland and northern New Zealand. These two countries share a similar Gondwanan ancestry; however, indigenous and European settlement patterns and economic development significantly differ between the two countries. In New Zealand, students discover the critically endangered flora and fauna of northern New Zealand and the factors that have led to their disjunct populations. In Australia, students take their New Zealand experiences and examine similarities and differences in political structure, land use patterns, and biogeography.

Field expeditions and exercises include:

  • Examine the influence of fragmentation and other impacts on abiotic and biotic attributes of forest communities in Australia and New Zealand.
  • Visit the ancient rainforest refugia at Mossman Gorge and Daintree National Park.
  • Visit the ancient Kauri forests of northern New Zealand.
  • Examine Aboriginal vs. Maori historic land-use practices in Australia and New Zealand.

Session II: Techniques for Rainforest Research

Examining the effects of fragmentation in highly endangered rainforest systems, students explore Australia?s tropical forests and develop effective rainforest research skills while learning about rainforest conservation.

Field expeditions and exercises include:

  • Sampling design; GPS and GIS techniques; plant identification, forest survey techniques, animal survey methods; point sampling and area surveys for birds; spotlighting; stakeholder and cost benefit analysis; carbon sequestrationmeasurement, etc.
  • Experience lowland forest and contrast with the Tablelands rainforest. 

Visit for a more complete description of this program and to take a virtual tour of our field station.

Dates / Deadlines:

There are currently no active application cycles for this program.

This program is currently not accepting applications.