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Rainforest of super trees descended from lost supercontinent Gondwana being created in Australia




Researchers in Australia are building a "living seed bank" to protect the continent’s last-remaining fragments of rainforest from climate change. One goal is to avoid the extinction of ancient trees, whose ancestral roots trace back to Gondwana, the supercontinent that existed before Earth's continents separated hundreds millions of years ago.

Historically, Australia's lush Big Scrub Rainforest flourished across 185,000 acres (75,000 hectares) of eastern Australia. But over the centuries, human encroachment and wildfires have shrunk it to just 1% of that original expanse. Now, rising temperatures and drought threaten the remaining fragments. 

These smaller patches contain fewer trees and dwindling diversity, which leaves species vulnerable to changing weather, warming, and disease.

That's a worry particularly for Gondwana-descended species like Red Carabeen (Karrabina benthamiana) and Yellow Carabeen (Sloanea woollsii) from lineages over 50 million years old, a time when Australia was still attached to Antarctica before Gondwana had fully broken apart. 

These canopy trees can grow to 115 and 164 feet (35 and 50 meters) tall respectively, and are "the main frame-builders of the forest," said Robert Kooyman, a plant biologist at Macquarie University, Australia who is involved with the research. 

Related: Mystery of 'living fossil' tree frozen in time for 66 million years finally solved

In the new project, called Science Saving Rainforests, which is run by the Australian non-profit Big Scrub Rainforest Conservancy, scientists have selected 60 plant species, including several of those Gondwana-era trees.