Research areas - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Research areas

The Tropical Forests and People Research Centre's (TFAP) research falls into four research discipline areas.

We carry out community-focused research and development (R&D) support for Indigenous peoples to sustainably use their natural resources and implement forestry enterprises on their traditional lands for improved livelihood and environmental outcomes.

We operate throughout northern Australia and internationally, in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Our collaborative, multidisciplinary projects bring together Indigenous people, researchers, industry, governments and NGOs to support sustainable Indigenous community development.

Our work focuses on resolving real-world challenges associated with forestry, mining operations and other developments on Indigenous peoples’ lands – for positive economic, social, cultural and environmental outcomes.

In partnership with Indigenous peoples, government and the private sector, we work to develop evidence-based policies and programs – to design and implement ‘people-focused, forest-based’ livelihood systems, realised through Indigenous jobs and capacity building.

Current projects in this research area

Our research is focused on how to enhance the outcomes of forest and landscape restoration with communities and smallholders. This includes investigating the social and institutional landscapes, including governance structure, gender relations, and laws and regulations.

It also entails research on the economic and financial aspects of forest restoration and related livelihood activities.

Finally, it includes addressing the biophysical challenges of forest restoration, including species-site matching, reducing impacts of weed competition and fire, the production of high-quality planting material and testing combinations of tree species for mixed-species plantations.

We hope to provide evidence for planning, implementation and management for more persistent forest restoration.

Current projects in this research area

We are investigating the biological and environmental interactions that affect the way that forests function.

This tells us fundamental information regarding how forests work, but is also important for understanding how best to manage them.

This research investigates tree growth and structure, species distributions, community ecology, tree physiology, phenology, water and nutrient flux, and how these vary in relation to climate, soils and human influence.

For example, our FoRCE experiment ( is investigating the global influence of disturbance from tree-felling and cyclones on forest recovery under funding from the Australian Research Council.

This experiment aims to understand the interaction between climate and rapid growth of competitive vines, which are smothering disturbed forests across the tropics and beyond, with both positive and negative consequences for the global carbon sink.

Current projects in this research area

Our research approach to tropical forest silviculture has two declared research questions (1) how can the commercial productivity of tropical rainforest be enhanced so that stakeholders can assess management options, (2) what are the ecological consequences of these options?

To provide incremental and continuing answers to these questions, our researchers have investigated the post-logging recruitment of tree biodiversity into rainforests in north Queensland.

We have also researched the potential role of underplanted seedlings in providing merchantable logs in logged rainforests.

In the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and the north of Australia, we are continuing our research into the critical role of small-scale nurseries in providing the seedlings which may allow reforestation to proceed.

Current projects in this research area

Indigenous forestry

Forests in these regions of the world support the livelihoods of many millions of Indigenous people – providing timber and non-wood forest products, critical ecosystem services, and supporting cultural traditions.

AIM: to maintain and enhance the economic and bio-cultural values of Indigenous peoples’ forests, so that these forests continue to support Indigenous peoples’ livelihoods.

We aim to do so by:

  • Advancing understanding of extractive industry and other development processes, impacts and implications of change for Indigenous peoples and the environment;
  • Developing best-practice socio-economic, policy and management responses to extractives and other development impacts to support informed Indigenous community, government, business and NGO decision-making.
  • Leading and engaging in state, national and international consortia of Indigenous peoples, NGO’s, industry, research groups and other actors.
  • Working with Registered Training Organisations to support the training of Indigenous people at vocational, graduate and post-graduate levels, to develop skills in applied field-work, strategic forestry, and environmental leadership, management and decision-making.
  • Sharing R&D project results with broad audiences through academic publications, field-days, seminars and workshops, newsletters, videos, local regional radio and other social media.