SYDNEY: Bird populations in Australian rainforests have failed to rebound from the bushfires that tore through large swathes of the nation more than two years ago, according to a new study.
The report, published in Global Ecology and Conservation and released on Thursday, investigated the unprecedented impact of the 2019-2020 "Black Summer" fires on the Gondwana Rainforests, which stretched about 366,500 hectares across the states of New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland.
Researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Center for Ecosystem Science said it was the first time the World Heritage-listed area had been subjected to such devastating blazes, which wiped out about half the area.
"These rainforests are 40 million years old, and the fact we've burned up to half of it in just one fire season is astounding," said the report's lead author, UNSW ecology researcher Josh Lee.
Lee told Xinhua on Friday that initially the birds, unlike other wildlife trapped in the fires, were able to escape but they were now in peril because their habitat was struggling to recover.
"Some Australian bushland areas, such as those with eucalyptus trees, do well after fires, as it's part of their cycle, but that's not the case with rainforests," he said.
Lee said among the hardest hit bird species were the wompoo fruit-dove and the paradise riflebird which eat insects, leaves or fruit.
"Rainforests need these birds to eat and then disperse the seeds for the trees to grow in other parts of the rainforest — if we don't have the pigeons and doves to help the fire-affected areas regenerate, then we are in real trouble," he said.
The researchers say it is essential to continue studying the effects of large fires on the long-term conservation of rainforests, especially as climate change is expected to make such natural disasters more common.
"Because of how unique these ecosystems are and how rarely they burn, we really don't know much about what the recovery will look like," Lee said.
He said it would, therefore, be important to get an accurate timeline as to when other flora and fauna, not just birds, return to such fire-ravaged areas.
"There are a lot of species that only exist in the rainforests — they are not found anywhere else — so, if we did lose enough of these areas, then whole groups of species would be threatened with extinction," Lee said.