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    Posted March 20, 2012 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Adventure travel

    The Life and Death of a Eucalyptus Forest


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     TomQuigley, a research intern at the Conservation Ecology Centre in Australia, shot and edited these videos of the rainforest and wildlife in Cape Otway, Victoria. 'The local community here is really invested in the future and the health of the forest, but this is just one example of environmental degradation happening across the world,' he says. 'It's easy to talk about things in abstracts ("the rainforests are dying!") but to have concrete imagery of not only some of the wonderful things the forest provides, but also to be able to SEE the dieback happening, taps into the part of human emotion that motivates us to action. I was hoping that I would be able to spread the knowledge of what's happening to more people than just people in the area.'
    - ssesha, CNN iReport producer

    To me, "bush" only means a decorative lawn shrub. To the Australians at Cape Otway, it's more than that - "the bush" is their livelihood, their pride, the backdrop to their entire lives. And in the past ten years, it's been dying around them.

    Rainforest covers only 2% of the Earth's surface, but holds around 50% of its biodiversity. In Australia in particular, evolution held court unlike anywhere else in the world. Here, hopping is the most efficient form of locomotion, "bigger" tends to mean "cuddlier," and in any given acre, there's something very poisonous just waiting for you to step on it.

    Cape Otway is eucalyptus forest, pocked with open field for kangaroos. Wallabies, echidna, and hundreds of other species find homes in the deep forest. Bracken fern make ground travel impossible and manna gums blot out the sky.

    Except where they don't, because they're all dead.

    Everybody has an opinion about why the eucalyptus in Cape Otway is dying, but the only thing they agree on is: it's happening, and it's not stopping. High koala numbers, no young tree recruitment, and a 15-year drought are probably all contributing to the gumtree tombstones that now serrate the landscape in places. Conservationists are working to find ways to determine and alleviate the source of the scourge, but unless something is done soon, the manna gum of Cape Otway may die out completely - followed swiftly by a cascade of other animals.

    Manna gums are the epicenter of the blight. Eucalyptus viminalis is the tree of choice for the koala, and although 1-2 koalas in a hectare is generally considered sustainable, Cape Otway has a weighty 40 koalas per hectare in places. Most of the time, koalas are found in mannas, although messmates are often the tree of choice for hot days - but only for the shade from the broader leaves.

    Many locals blame the koalas for the death of the mannas, but some things don't add up. The dieback is moving - passing through areas adjacent to other dieback. If high koala numbers across the state were the only concern, you would expect to see dieback developing in sporadic patches everywhere. True, 40 koalas per hectare probably aren't helping the matter, but if we're to come up with a sustainable solution, sharpshooting an Australian icon back to appropriate levels isn't going to help.

    But the longer we infight and wait for test results to come in, the more the dieback spreads.
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