“Until now, the remote and rugged nature of these sites has helped shelter them from the usual human impacts.
“Climate modelling now predicts drastic habitat loss from the highlands within as little as 15 years, with droughts being longer, hotter, drier and more frequent.”
He said the mountaintop species, nestled on Mt Lewis, near Mossman, may not be able to migrate to more favourable areas if temperatures rise.
“They can’t go up as the climate warms. They’re running out of space and they’re running out of time.”
With permission from traditional owners, the team of scientists will gather plant material from Mt Lewis for propagation at botanic gardens in Canberra and Victoria.
The plants will then be distributed to other subtropical and cool-climate botanic gardens in Queensland and New South Wales, where they will be grown in conservation collections and used in research and education.
“The aim is to secure the most severely threatened tropical mountaintop species in well-managed, living collections with micro-climates as close as possible to their original habitat,” Professor Crayn said.
Once the plants are safe in cultivation, scientists will begin experimental work to help predict what will happen to species diversity of the Australian wet tropics in the coming decades.
Many of the species, both plants and animals are found nowhere else on earth, and this is one of the reasons the wet tropics were placed on the World Heritage register in 1988.