The Ancient Gondwana Rainforests of Australia
Located in the southeast of Queensland and northeast of New South Wales, in Australia, the ancient Gondwana rainforests are the oldest, continuous jungles in the world. Far older than the Amazonian jungle. So old in fact that its name stems from the old super-continent of Gondwana which broke off the even larger Pangaea mega-continent, some 180 million years ago, and which slowly drifted off to the south, forming the present-day continents of South America, Antarctica, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian sub-continent and Australia. These later broke apart as well, and steadily took their current-day locations.
As each of these pieces of land moved along on their tectonic plates, they in turn developed new ecosystems, in accordance with their respective geographical locations. Throughout the ages, Australia witnessed many changes to its climate, gradually turning from a lush, densely forested continent, to a vast grassland, and later to the arid desert it is today. The present-day Gondwana rainforests are what remains of this ancient and seemingly endless jungle that spread throughout the entirety of the continent. It now only accounts for about a third of a percent of the island nation, cramped into a small corner, right at the eastern edge of the continent.
Few places on earth contain so many plants and animals which remain relatively unchanged from their ancestors in the fossil record. Some of the oldest species of ferns and conifers can be found here, as well as a direct link to the first flowering plants from 100 million years ago. In these ancient forests, the strange fauna found only in Australia, began to evolve. The kangaroo can trace its origins to a small marsupial living among the branches of these jungles. As these forests slowly receded, giving way to large expanses of grassland, so did the ancestor of the kangaroo, jumped from the foliage and down on the ground, slowly beginning to hop its way onto the changing continent.
Even though rainforests today make up just 0.3% of Australia’s surface, they nevertheless contain about half of all Australian plant families and about a third of Australia’s mammal and bird species. The Gondwana Rainforests have an extremely high conservation value and provide habitat for more than 200 rare or threatened plant and animal species. The evolution of new species is encouraged by the natural separation and isolation of rainforest stands. Many plants and animals found, are locally restricted to a few sites or occur in widely separated populations.
High waterfalls crashing into steep gorges are spectacular examples of an important ongoing natural process – erosion. Erosion by coastal rivers created the Great Escarpment and the steep-sided caldera of the Tweed Valley surrounding Mount Warning. This towering mountain was once the buried plug of an ancient vast volcano. Today, rainforest grows on the fertile, well watered soils that remain.