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Wet Tropics Altitudinal Transect    


The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area in north-eastern Queensland is the largest area of tropical rainforest in Australia and supports the highest biodiversity – about 45 per cent of all vertebrate species - of any region in the country. In 2014, the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area was ranked the second most irreplaceable natural terrestrial World Heritage site on Earth because of its unique concentration of endemic, rare and ancient species. The vertebrate fauna of the Wet Tropics has outstanding and exceptionally high levels of endemism and diversity, with the highest concentration in the mountain rainforests.  Long-term monitoring demonstrates that the biodiversity of the World Heritage Area is declining, with many species already reduced in both distribution area and population size, despite being well-managed within a protected area. These impacts have been caused by diseases, climate change and habitat fragmentation. Climate change is already causing significant impacts with many species disappearing at the lower elevation, warmer part of their range.

Research Infrastructure

The Wet Tropics Altitudinal Transect (WTAT) is located in the central Wet Tropics of Queensland and extends 600 kilometres from the coast to an elevation of 1200 metres. For more than 20 years, biodiversity monitoring has been conducted along the WTAT with sites at 200 metre elevational intervals from sea-level to the tops of the mountains in each of the major mountain ranges of the region. The WTAT dataset consists of more than 400,000 vertebrate records, more than 13000 DNA tissue samples and more than 11500 standardised surveys of birds, reptiles, frogs, and small mammals. Additionally, there is extensive information based on a variety of invertebrate groups, habitat descriptions and millions of microclimate measurements. Long-term research based on the WTAT has provided detailed insights into the most important drivers of biodiversity in the region and led the way in identifying global climate change as a severe threatening process in the tropics, and the potential for species extinction in mountain systems around the world. The science from the WTAT has made a significant contribution to conservation planning and management at the state, national and international levels.


General location

Australian Wet Tropics, north-eastern Queensland between Townsville and Cooktown.

Research infrastructure themes

Understanding patterns and processes driving biodiversity in the tropical rainforests of the region

Predicting the impacts of climate change on biodiversity

Conservation management and climate change

Year Established


Transect Length

600 km

No. of plots

>100 (with replicate sampling points)

Rainfall Gradient (mean annual)

1200 mm – 8000 mm

Data type

Standardised surveys of birds, reptiles, frogs, mammals, invertebrates, microclimate, vegetation structure

Temporal revisit (ideal)

Primary sites – 3-4 times per year; Secondary sites – 1 per year

TERN Facilities on the NATT

AusPlots; Australian Supersite Network; Long Term Ecological Research Network LTERN; OzFlux; AusCover


  • James Cook University

Transect leader

Professor Stephen Williams




Papers and reports

Data - http://www.aekos.org.au




Williams S.E., L.E. Falconi., C. Moritz & J. Fenker-Antunes. 2016. Ancient, endemic, rare and threatened vertebrates of the Wet Tropics. State of the Wet Tropics Report, Wet Tropics Management Authority, Cairns, Australia.



Williams S.E., J. VanDerWal, J. Isaac, L. Shoo, C. Storlie, S. Fox, E.E. Bolitho, C. Moritz, C. Hoskin & Y.M. Williams. 2010. Distributions, life history specialisation and phylogeny of the rainforest vertebrates in the Australian Wet Tropics. Ecology 91(8): 2493 (Access DATA via Ecological Archives)


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