You’re in a forest of the tallest flowering trees in the world, surrounding an ancient volcano.
Sparkling waterfalls topple over its rim, against a backdrop of rocky, jagged peaks. There’s snow in winter, and—in hot, dry summers after extended droughts—occasional bushfires of apocalyptic proportions.
If you were a bird, you could fly among the treetops, sometimes 100 metres up into the sky. You could peek inside a dark hollow of an ancient tree and see a family of tiny possums snuggled in their nest of shredded bark.
Back on the ground, the landscape reveals to you crystal-clear streams, with tiny darting fish called Barred Galaxia, a name from another world.
But you’re right here on Earth.
In fact, you’re only 90 minutes away from Melbourne’s CBD, in the forests that form the eastern backdrop to the city, at a research site for the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society.
These Mountain Ash forests of the Victorian Central Highlands are a primary resource for Victoria in terms of biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and water supply. Understanding how these forests function—from the treetops right down to the streams—is critical to their conservation and management. It’s real-world science, even if it’s an otherworldly place.
Researchers from ANU manage a number of major projects in the region, including long-term studies of post-fire ecological recovery and how to build fire resilience back into the landscape. This knowledge was critical following the devastating 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
Fenner researchers have also been monitoring the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum, Victoria’s faunal emblem, for more than 30 years, in one of Australia’s longest-term ecological studies.
It’s thanks to long-term ANU research and the interdisciplinary expertise of the Fenner School—where economists work alongside ecologists, and hydrologists alongside historians—that we can understand the values of the forest ecosystem, and how to best respect them.
Thirty years is a long time for a study, but not for a landscape. The traditional owners of these Mountain Ash forests call them a “keeping place” for the story of the land and its people. It’s a story still being told.
ANU would like to acknowledge the Bunurong (Boon Wurrung), Gunaikurnai, Taungurung (Daung Warring) and Wurrundjeri Indigenous Australians, the traditional owners of the land of the Victorian Central Highlands.
View more ANU Science on Location videos on the Science at ANU website.
Image credit: James Walsh