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The Iron Range Research Station



Permanent Survey Plots

In order to aid long-term monitoring projects, permanent survey plots have been established within the various ecosystems on the property. This allows surveys to be carried out at regular intervals to assess change over time in each of the ecosystems. 

The plots also enable research from different groups & faculties of science to be easily compared and contrasted, helping build a comprehensive data base on the Iron Range. 

Permanent Survey Plots at the IRRS (indicated by colored rectangles on the map).

Baseline Botanical Surveys

One of the first ecological studies at the IRRS was establishing baseline botanical surveys within all ecological communities on the property. 

These surveys were conducted by various botanists including Dave Fell & Wendy Cooper. The findings from these studies have been used to strengthen & underpin many other research projects and form the base for all botanical knowledge at the station.

Dense tropical rainforest at the IRRS. 


Fungal surveys have been conducted at the IRRS to investigate both macrofungi and mycorrhizal relationships. This research focused on fungus-host relationships of plant-associated fungi during the wet (monsoon) season at the IRRS.


These studies were performed within the established permanent survey plots at the property, by PhD student Jed Calvert and other mycologists.  

Macrofungi at the IRRS. Credit: Merilyn Paskins.

Aerial LiDAR Scanning

Aerial LiDAR scanning has been used to produce highly accurate, three-dimensional models of topography, tree structure & vegetation types on the property. This mapping was carried out using world-class measurement systems, with LiDAR scanning apparatus mounted to light aircraft. 

Through this the IRRS has been able to best assess it’s own forests at scale, and has done so both prior to and post disturbance events including cyclone and fire.

A three-dimensional model produced via aerial LiDAR scanning at the IRRS. A selected band of tree structure is denoted by colour (Red=Tallest), while underlying topography is shown in grey.

Terrestrial LiDAR 

In conjunction to the aerial LiDAR surveys, Terrestrial LiDAR scanning (TLS) has been used to measure and monitor vegetation at the IRRS. These studies were undertaken by ArborMeta- a private scientific branch of the Maxim Foundation. By accurately modelling vegetation with TLS, we are able to monitor and manage the surrounding forests, while providing world-first data for further research projects.

A point cloud model of native vegetation, generated from the TLS surveys conducted by ArborMeta.

Neural Network Vegetation Mapping

In conjunction with LiDAR mapping and baseline botanicals surveys, vegetation mapping at scale has been pioneered at the IRRS using machine learning technology.

By using ecological signatures from the aerial LiDAR and the baseline plots for calibration data, this software identifies the extent of each ecological community across the landscape. This information is used for a variety of research projects and aids in planning further surveys.

TLS & Botanical survey data was used to calibrate the neural network  mapping software

Fire Vulnerability Mapping

Using the vegetation mapping derived from the machine learning software, the vulnerability to fire for each ecological community has been assessed and mapped. This mapping takes into account both vegetation type, as well as aspect, proximity to water & neighboring ecosystems. 

This mapping is essential for developing and implementing successful responses to wild fires (such as those seen in 2019), in a manner that protects the diverse flora & fauna of the Iron Range.

Map illustrating fire vulnerability of ecosystems within the Iron Range. More vulnerable regions are indicated by lighter shading.

Capparis Research: Wendy Cooper

Wendy Cooper is a botanist, who has made numerous contributions to scientific knowledge in the field of tropical rainforest botany. Wendy has taken part in several research projects at the IRRS, with her latest one focusing on an undescribed species of vine in the Capparis genus. Flowering as rarely as one in every five years, these vines truly are remarkable & the IRRS is proud to support Wendy in her research.

An undescribed species of Capparis vine, found by Wendy Cooper.

Fauna Surveys

The Iron Range supports an incredibly rare & diverse range of flora and fauna, with some species being narrowly endemic and others migrating seasonally from the coastal rainforests of Papua New Guinea. As such, numerous faunal surveys and studies have been conducted at the IRRS.

In order to better understand the fauna at the IRRS, camera traps have been positioned in each of the permanent survey plots. While primarily focusing on small mammals, these traps capture a diverse range of fauna.

A migratory Papuan Pitta at the IRRS. Credit: Merilyn Paskins.

Entomology Studies

Several projects have been undertaken to provide greater understanding regarding the Entomology of the Iron Range and the greater Cape York Peninsula Bioregion.


These studies include myrmecology  surveys conducted by CSIRO terrestrial ecologist Alan Andersen.  Research is also currently being undertaken regarding the diversity of butterfly species present at the IRRS.

Hercules Moth at the IRRS. Credit: Merilyn Paskins.

Megapode Nesting

Using Digital Terrain Models (DTM's) from the aerial LiDAR research, studies were conducted to compare the presence of megapode nests with current ecosystems. Surprisingly, this research identified pre-existing megapode nests in open woodland areas.


As megapode nests are typically found within the tropical rain forest ecosystems, this finding suggests change in the extent of the rainforest areas over time. 

Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the Iron Range. The mounds of Megapode nests are shown by the small bumps scattered across the landscape.

Research at the IRRS

As the name implies, research is the primary function of the IRRS. In practice, this often means hosting visiting researchers, as well as conducting our own scientific projects. While these frequently focus on rainforest ecology, we support & encourage knowledge from all areas of science and innovative thought. 

If you wish to visit the IRRS, make use of our facilities, or contribute to research at the station please see the enquiries page.

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