“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” - Heraclitus
After finishing my third field season I can testify that Heraclitus would happily agree to apply this philosophy to Australian forests and PhD students.Thanks to the storms early this year, the forests changed their color after a bad season of drought and fires.
Many of the creeks I surveyed were reduced to a few ponds or became completely dry by December 2019. In order to collect 4L of water, I had to walk a kilometer in pursuit of a pond with stagnate water. I wasn’t alone and many times I would spot birds, snakes and wallabies gathered around the same pond to drink from what was left.
After the storms in January, some of the sites I surveyed received more rain in a month than they had seen in all of 2019. We were even caught in a down pour at Border Ranges NP, making us use our navigation skills to run across the forest at night while blinded by the water (as our wet glasses were completely useless).
Where I once had to clear my way through the dead fallen bush and walk stumbling on dry rocks, our boots were now filling with water in the deep creeks.
Strong storms filled the once arid creeks, cleaning the ash and carrying away the branches and logs.
We could imagine how strong the storms were when we saw destroyed plants and the detritus brought by the flow at least 4 meters away from the stream margin.
The torrents that flushed the large dead trees also took away the data-loggers we placed in the water to measure temperature. I installed the loggers at each creek on my first survey season in September. At that time, the low water levels were giving me a completely different image of the creeks.
If not washed away, we found many of the data loggers buried under sand. Large amounts of sand deposited at the bottom of streams were a consequence of water finally flowing, but the water also brought sediments after the drought and fire events.
Currently, the loggers are recording temperature every two hours to help me visualize variation in environmental conditions. At least the loggers placed on trees to measure air temperature had better luck, except of course for the one that melted after a bush fire.
Besides losing data from my lost loggers, I was amazed by the water flowing again and by how green the forests were.
Each of my 30 creeks has a particular shape and composition, and I could describe each of them in minute detail. My transect at Bundaroo Ck in Conondale NP (pictured on the left), for example, ends in a long riffle area by a small waterfall, which would be a perfect habitat for Mixophyes fleayi, if only the species hadn't declined from there decades ago.
In this third field season, the lush, unrecognizable wetness of my sites made me extremely happy.
Even finding ourselves in a new forest blooming with mushrooms, we encountered over 380 frogs during this field season. These data will be crucial for us to understand the disease dynamics afflicting endangered amphibian species across QLD and NSW.
Special thanks to Preeti Sharma for coming from Melbourne to volunteer for half of the season and being the photographer.