About the Northern Tablelands

The Northern Tablelands is a mixed use rural area, with large parts under agricultural cultivation, interspersed with small acreage lifestyle properties and country towns, located in the Upper Mitchell River catchment, which straddles western shed of the Great Dividing Range. This area supports around 30 tropical agricultural crops, including bananas, sugar cane, mangoes, avocados and citrus industries. It includes the Mareeba-Dimbulah Irrigation Area (MDIA), serviced by the townships of Dimbulah and Mutchilba, and the western extents of the Mareeba and Biboohra districts. The region also includes a large population of “peri-urban” residents on small acreage lots in the Cairns Hinterland, particularly in the Julatten/Mt Molloy area and the bush communities in Irvinebank and Watsonville. The Northern Tablelands supports a great diversity of regional ecosystems and biodiversity, as it straddles the three bioregions of the Wet Tropics, the Einasleigh Uplands and Cape York, and contains important landscape scale linkages for biodiversity, spanning a mosaic of wet tropical rainforests, open eucalypt woodlands, dry savannah country, and includes a network of important riparian corridors and waterways.

A changing climate

The climate of the Northern Tablelands is cooler than the grazing land further west into the Northern Gulf Region, and the agricultural industries of the MDIA are arguably more resilient to drought that grazing operations because of their access to irrigation water- however variability of stream flow could still threaten agricultural production by making irrigation supply unreliable and more costly. However, the rainforest, wet sclerophyll and open eucalypt woodlands of the Upper Mitchell are still exposed to hotter climates, longer dry periods and more extreme events like cyclones and wildfires, all of which have the potential to radically disturb and alter the composition of these native vegetation communities.

The biggest horticultural industries of the Northern Tablelands which are bananas, sugar cane, mangoes and avocados, are all exposed to big losses from damage caused by cyclonic events. Increased intense high rainfall events can also increase the pressure of weeds, pests and disease on agricultural production, and water logging can impact agriculture by limiting machinery operations and leach soils of their nutrient content, thus lowering soil fertility. High rainfall events will also exacerbate erosion in extreme rainfall events, and continue to rise saline ground water tables.

Climate change modelling of biodiversity highlights the importance of the Northern Tablelands to facilitate the movement of wildlife between bioregions and fragments of habitat, particularly in the Julatten and Mt Molloy area. This further illuminates the importance of maintaining and improving these connections into the future to facilitate refuges for wildlife populations migrating under altered climatic conditions projected in the future.

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