Biology major Christopher Bonasia '12 of Long Island, N.Y., spent his fall semester "down under," as he's lived and studied in an Australian rainforest.
Along with 23 other American college students, he lives in a cabin in Queensland, at the School for Field Studies (SFS) Centre for Rainforest Studies. There, the undergraduate students are immersed into a field-based, tropical ecology classroom, as they learn about conservation and restoration efforts.
Perhaps the best thing about his study abroad experience is the research Bonasia is conducting. He has dedicated the month of December to a directed research project - a case study of two restoration sites in Queensland, where he is analyzing methods of monitoring conditions there.
"So far, the process has been fascinating," Bonasia said. "Queensland suffered intensive deforestation in the early 1900s, and lately there has been a movement to restore much of the land, which is now abandoned pasture. However, funding for this is short-term and inadequate, so monitoring is frequently not done. As a result, it is difficult to assess the success of the site or notice problems before the restoration attempt fails."
Many of Australia's tropical forests and species are now protected under World Heritage legislation. However, climate change and invasive species are a continual threat to their survival.
The Centre's goal is to further the understanding of the dynamics of rainforest ecosystems, including the potential impact of global climate change. Students look at ways to develop rainforest restoration and management strategies that benefit both ecosystems and human communities.
While studying in Australia has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, living and taking classes in the rainforest has made his experience particularly rewarding, Bonasia said. "I receive many lectures outside, in the environment, which is more interesting and educational than staring at a PowerPoint."
In addition to learning about the ecology of the rainforests in the Australian Wet Tropics, Bonasia took a class to learn how the history and culture of the area have affected the natural environment, and a third class that focused on restoration ecology.
Although rainforest ecosystems are rich with fauna and floral biodiversity, and provide humans with clean air, water, food and medicines, thousands of acres disappear each day. Large areas of northeastern Queensland once were covered in spectacular rainforests that preserved millions of years of evolutionary history. Similar to Australia, in northern New Zealand, only fragments of the country's ancient forests remain to house the endemic fauna and flora.
Bonasia said he enjoys living in a rainforest.
"There is so much biodiversity," he said. "The most amazing thing I've seen was bioluminescent algae when I was backpacking over a five-day, mid-semester break. Also, Australian King Parrots are very pretty."
Before he leaves Australia, Bonasia plans to take a 10-day bicycle trip in New Zealand.