Altered Ecologies

Altered Ecologies: Fire, climate and human influence on terrestrial landscapes

Simon G. Haberle
Janelle Stevenson
Matthew Prebble
Series: Terra Australis
Volume: 32
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Altered Ecologies
    Book Description:

    Like a star chart this volume orientates the reader to the key issues and debates in Pacific and Australasian biogeography, palaeoecology and human ecology. A feature of this collection is the diversity of approaches ranging from interpretation of the biogeographic significance of plant and animal distributional patterns, pollen analysis from peats and lake sediments to discern Quaternary climate change, explanation of the patterns of faunal extinction events, the interplay of fire on landscape evolution, and models of the environmental consequences of human settlement patterns. The diversity of approaches, geographic scope and academic rigor are a fitting tribute to the enormous contributions of Geoff Hope. As made apparent in this volume, Hope pioneered multidisciplinary understanding of the history and impacts of human cultures in the Australia- Pacific region, arguably the globe's premier model systems for understanding the consequences of human colonization on ecological systems. The distinguished scholars who have contributed to this volume also demonstrate Hope's enduring contribution as an inspirational research leader, collaborator and mentor. Terra Australis leave no doubt that history matters, not only for land management, but more importantly, in alerting settler and indigenous societies alike to their past ecological impacts and future environmental trajectories.

    eISBN: 978-1-921666-81-0
    Subjects: Archaeology, Paleontology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[xii])
  3. 1 Introduction A D-section and a tin whistle: A tribute to Prof. Geoff Hope
    (pp. 1-14)
    Matthew Prebble, Janelle Stevenson and Simon Haberle

    After more than 40 years of academic research and teaching in Quaternary Science, Prof. Geoff Hope retired in June 2009. As an undergraduate student at the University of Melbourne in the 1960s, Geoff studied the natural sciences under such greats as Ray Specht. He later became one of a pioneering band of researchers to pursue palynology in Australia, starting with a Master’s project on the peatlands of Wilsons Promontory, investigating the history of Nothofagus forest and aboriginal plant use. For his PhD research, he made the big leap into New Guinea, exploring glaciation as a driver of vegetation and climate...

  4. Ecosystem responses to long and short term climate change
    • 2 The contrasting biology of tropical versus temperate Nothofagus species and its relevance to interpretations of Cenozoic rainforest history in southeast Australia
      (pp. 15-32)
      Jennifer Read, Robert S. Hill, Geoffrey S. Hope and Raymond J. Carpenter

      Given the uncertain impacts of global climate change, it is becoming increasingly important to understand the factors controlling vegetation change, species distributions and vagility. The fossil record provides the only real source of long-term data for changes in distributions and characteristics of species and vegetation types. However, while making an enormous contribution to our knowledge of vegetation history, interpretation is limited by the incomplete fossil record, understanding of the biology of fossil species, and insufficient precision regarding the timing of key environmental events.

      One advantage of the macrofossil record, particularly that relating to leaves, is that better indications can be...

    • 3 Beneath the peat: A refined pollen record from an interstadial at Caledonia Fen, highland eastern Victoria, Australia
      (pp. 33-48)
      A. Peter Kershaw, G. Merna McKenzie, Jonathan Brown, Richard G. Roberts and Sander van der Kaars

      The reconstruction of past vegetation has traditionally been based on peat deposits because of their accessibility and abundance in previously glaciated landscapes of northwestern Europe where the interest originated, the fact that pollen analysis can be combined with identification of macrofossils and peat stratigraphy to maximise knowledge of past vegetation and its controls, particularly climate, and the ease with which sediment cores for analysis can be extracted. The interest was extended to the Australasian region largely by researchers from, or trained at, European institutions, especially the Godwin Institute for Quaternary Research (GIQR) at the University of Cambridge. Peat studies caught...

    • 4 The vegetation cover of New Zealand during the Last Glacial Maximum: Do pollen records under-represent woody vegetation?
      (pp. 49-68)
      Matt S. McGlone, Rewi M. Newnham and Neville T. Moar

      The Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) was a global event characterised by cool, often dry climates, low atmospheric CO₂ concentrations, low sea level and high ice volume, with polar and mountain glaciers and ice sheets at their maximum extent in most regions. The most widely used definition of its duration is 18 ka to 24 ka (ka = 1000 calendar years before present), suggested by Mix et al. (2001). Newnham et al. (2007) have demonstrated that this is not appropriate for New Zealand (and almost certainly globally) and have proposed an extended LGM of c. 29 ka to c. 19 ka,...

    • 5 Holocene vegetation history of a high-elevation (1200 m) site in the Lake Heron Basin, inland Canterbury, New Zealand
      (pp. 69-82)
      J. M. Pugh and J. Shulmeister

      The Canterbury high country is a favourable location to examine climate-change histories because it lies in the lee of the Southern Alps. This causes the area to be a rain-shadow region and it is sensitive to changes in the strength and persistence of the regional westerly flow. Strong westerly flow is associated with droughts and high summer temperatures. In contrast, weakened westerly flow allows moisture from the east to penetrate these upland basins. As a consequence, this is an important area to study changes in the Southern Hemisphere westerly winds in this sector of the Southern Ocean. This record is...

    • 6 Last Glacial Maximum habitat change and its effects on the grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus Temminck 1825)
      (pp. 83-100)
      J. G. Luly, David Blair, Jennifer G. Parsons, Samantha Fox and Jeremy VanDerWal

      The grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) is a large phytophagous bat found in coastal and near-coastal eastern Australia, from Mackay in the north to Geelong in the south (Parsons et al. 2008; Roberts et al. 2008). It is among the best known of the Australian flying foxes. Eby (1991), Parry-Jones and Augee (1991, 1992, 2001), Tidemann and Nelson (2004), McDonald-Madden et al. (2005), Parris and Hazell (2005), and Williams et al. (2006) documented aspects of P. poliocephalus ecology. Eby (1991) and Parry-Jones and Augee (2001) focused on movements between colony sites and feeding areas, while Tidemann and Nelson (2004) demonstrated...

    • 7 Observations on feeding frequencies among native and exotic birds and fruit bats at Erythrina variegata and Dysoxylum trees on American Samoa
      (pp. 101-116)
      Julie A. Sherman and Patricia L. Fall

      Like most oceanic islands, Polynesian islands have experienced environmental degradation and native species losses, due in part to deforestation and predation by humans and human-introduced species (Dahl 1984a, b; Steadman et al. 1999; Cocklin and Keen 2000; Steadman and Martin 2003), as well as natural disturbances such as hurricanes (Craig et al. 1994a; Elmqvist et al. 1994; Pierson et al. 1996; Hjerpe et al. 2001; Whistler 2002; Franklin et al. 2004; McConkey et al. 2004a). Fossil evidence indicates the majority of Polynesian bird and bat species became extinct or were extirpated in the wake of human colonisation (Steadman 1993, 1995,...

  5. Human colonisation and ecological impacts
    • 8 Megafaunal extinctions and their consequences in the tropical Indo-Pacific
      (pp. 117-132)
      Richard T. Corlett

      The global Quaternary Megafauna Extinction (QME) event eliminated two-thirds of all mammal genera and half (c. 178) of all species of body mass >44 kg, with most well-dated extinctions occurring between c. 50,000 and 3000 years ago (Barnosky 2008). The QME differed from other extinction events in the fossil record by the absence of replacements, the fact that similar episodes occurred in widely separated sites at different times, and the fact that the timing can often be loosely linked with the arrival of modern humans. The causes and consequences of this event have been debated at length in the literature...

    • 9 Marsupials as introduced species: Long-term anthropogenic expansion of the marsupial frontier and its implications for zoogeographic interpretation
      (pp. 133-176)
      Thomas E. Heinsohn

      Traditionally, Southern mammals such as the marsupials and monotremes of Australasia have been viewed as further down the evolutionary tree and thus inferior to the placental mammals of Afro-Eurasia and the Americas. This Eurocentrism or Northern-Hemisphere-centrism is typified in the writings of turn-of-the-century British naturalist McCabe (1910), who wrote a paper entitled ‘Australia – A Museum of Living Antiquities’ in which he characterised the continent as a last bastion for inferior species:

      ‘...circumstances point to an invasion of Australia by the land-bridge from Asia ... Under the stress of the new carnivores of the northern world the dull inferior Monotremes and...

    • 10 The empty coast: Conditions for human occupation in southeast Australia during the late Pleistocene
      (pp. 177-186)
      Sandra Bowdler

      Archaeology, particularly Australian archaeology, and particularly the archaeology of the pre-European Australian past, is significantly dependent on other disciplines. One of our main interests has been understanding the relationship of Aboriginal people to their environments, and to this end, we have collaborated, with differing degrees of closeness, with geomorphologists, palaeontologists and, of course, palynologists. Geoff Hope is an outstanding example of the last, and has contributed greatly to our knowledge of past environments and their significance for human occupation. I have personally been privileged to work with Geoff, and his contribution to my research, and to the wider questions raised...

    • 11 Early Holocene human occupation and environment of the southeast Australian Alps: New evidence from the Yarrangobilly Plateau, New South Wales
      (pp. 187-212)
      Ken Aplin, Fred Ford and Peter Hiscock

      The sciences of Quaternary studies and archaeology have developed hand in hand in Australasia so that, as a rule, there is a close match for any particular biome between knowledge of late-Quaternary environments and both the time depth and richness of regional archaeological records. The southeast Australian Alps represent a significant exception to this rule. For while the environmental history of this biome is relatively well known, at least since the termination of the last glaciation at c. 16,000 BP (e.g. Kershaw and Strickland 1989; Martin 1999; Barrows et al. 2001; Hope 2003; Kershaw et al. 2007), evidence of human...

    • 12 Holocene lowland vegetation change and human ecology in Manus Province, Papua New Guinea
      (pp. 213-238)
      Matthew Prebble, Jean Kennedy and Wendy Southern

      This paper concerns evidence for past human impacts on the environment in the lowland tropical New Guinea region. Against a background regional overview, we consider two sequences, one archaeological, the other palaeoecological, from opposite ends of Manus Island, the largest island of the Admiralty Islands that now constitute Manus Province, Papua New Guinea. Contrasts in these local sequences prevent their easy alignment with grand narratives of regional prehistory. We show instead that closer examination of local contexts, especially the nature of agroecosystems, gives useful insights that help to disentangle natural processes of forest vegetation change and the effects of human...

    • 13 Geomorphic and archaeological consequences of human arrival and agricultural expansion on Pacific islands: A reconsideration after 30 years of debate
      (pp. 239-252)
      Matthew Spriggs

      The late 1970s was an exciting time to be a PhD student in archaeology at the ANU, with many new ideas flying around and being discussed by staff and students, usually over a beverage or two or three at the ANU Staff Club. Prominent among sometimes-heated discussions were those pertaining to human-environment relations. The dominant paradigm up to that time in the Pacific was a fairly pedestrian environmental determinism, with prehistoric humans having had very little agency (although at the time we did not use, indeed did not know the word in such a context: see Dobres and Robb 1999)....

    • 14 Pollen evidence for plant introductions in a Polynesian tropical island ecosystem, Kingdom of Tonga
      (pp. 253-272)
      Patricia L. Fall

      The dynamic nature of tropical Pacific ecosystems results from chance migrations and the evolution of founder species, as well as from physical factors such as changes in sea level, ocean currents, tectonic processes and climate (Hope 2001). In addition, this region’s vegetation is constantly adjusting through succession to local perturbations like landslides and tropical cyclones. These ecological and physical processes are compounded by continued immigration of new species, competition, extinctions and extirpation of species. For many island ecosystems the most dramatic impact on species composition results from the arrival of humans and their ‘co-voyaging’ plants and animals (Hope 2001). The...

    • 15 Integrating social and environmental change in prehistory: A discussion of the role of landscape as a heuristic in defining prehistoric possibilities in northeast Thailand
      (pp. 273-298)
      William E. Boyd and Nigel Chang

      The archaeological study of past societies is an inherently difficult activity. Relying on extremely small samples of the available evidence, often many millennia after the event, archaeologists have the unenviable task of inferring complex relationships and processes for societies whose social, cultural, political and cognitive characteristics are likely to be very different from those of the archaeologists investigating them. Consequently, archaeologists are developing and adopting an increasingly wide range of analytical and conceptual tools with which to tackle the task of unravelling past social behaviour and history. While palaeoenvironmental study has frequently been called on, it has been largely to...

  6. Fire and its role in transforming our environment
    • 16 A 40,000 year wood charcoal record from Carpenter’s Gap 1: New insights into palaeovegetation change and indigenous foraging strategies in the Kimberley, Western Australia
      (pp. 299-322)
      Susan Frawley and Sue O’Connor

      This paper presents the results from analysis of wood charcoal from Carpenter’s Gap 1, a rock shelter with a human-occupation record spanning more than 40,000 years. The phytolith and macrobotanical remains from this site have been previously studied. They provided proxy records of vegetation change over time but each class of palaeobotanical material has distinct taphonomic biases that affect the likelihood that it will be incorporated in the archaeological deposit, and if it is, how well it preserves. The wood charcoal record provides a new line of evidence and helps build a more holistic profile of palaeovegetation local to the...

    • 17 The burning question: Claims and counter claims on the origin and extent of buttongrass moorland (blanket moor) in southwest Tasmania during the present glacial-interglacial
      (pp. 323-340)
      Mike Macphail

      Claims and counter claims about the origins of the buttongrass moorland (blanket moor) in southwest Tasmania explicitly or implicitly are founded on the ‘ecological drift’ concept formulated more than 40 years ago by the late Professor W.D. (Bill) Jackson, at the University of Tasmania. Ecological surveys and modelling experiments have provided much valuable information about the dynamic balance between the plant associations forming buttongrass moorland under present-day climates, soil types and fire regimes. However, thus far, fossil pollen provides the only direct evidence about the origins, geographic extent and long-term directions of change in buttongrass moorland in the prehistoric past....

    • 18 Ecological drift or stable fire cycles in Tasmania: A resolution?
      (pp. 341-352)
      Ian Thomas, Phil Cullen and Michael-Shawn Fletcher

      On the Central Plateau of Tasmania, up by Liawenee Moor, the wind whistles with frost-edged harshness. On the shores of Lake Augusta stood the Bernacchi Training Facility of the Australian Antarctic Division in which generations of bearded heroes listened and learned at the foot of gnarly ice veterans. The main room of the facility was barn-like, with exposed beams, coils of rope and a very large and well-used fireplace. The inside of the chimney was damp, soot blackened and slippery. We know this for a fact because in 1984, Phil Cullen and I (Thomas) were wedged inside, trying to squeeze...

    • 19 Restoration of mires of the Australian Alps following the 2003 wildfires
      (pp. 353-362)
      Roger Good, Genevieve Wright, Jennie Whinam and Geoff Hope

      The alpine and subalpine bogs and fens formed some 3000 to 9000 years ago during periods of active growth of Sphagnum spp. and other mire plant species. The climate and the wet, acidic and anaerobic soil and environmental conditions during this period provided for the rapid accumulation of partially decomposed organic matter and the formation of deep peatbeds. The bogs and fens at the present time have an underlying peat depth of 50 cm to 150 cm, although the accumulation of organic matter and peat formation has been minimal over the past several thousand years.

      Saturated peats of the bogs...

    • 20 Post-fire experimental trials of vegetation restoration techniques in the peatlands of Namadgi (ACT) and Kosciuszko National Parks (NSW), Australia
      (pp. 363-380)
      Jennie Whinam, Geoffrey Hope, Roger Good and Genevieve Wright

      In January 2003, wildfires, ignited by lightning strikes, burnt approximately 2.1 million ha in the ACT, NSW and Victoria. These wildfires burnt a high proportion of subalpine peatlands, (both Sphagnum-shrub bog and sedge fens) across the Snowy Mountains, in New South Wales and in the Brindabella Ranges, in the ACT. These communities are widely distributed and cover about 5500 ha in the alpine and subalpine zones of Kosciuszko National Park, but are of limited area and occurrence in Namadgi National Park, where they total 320 ha. The bogs and fens occur above approximately 1000 m altitude at the heads of...

  7. Methodological advances and applications in environmental change research
    • 21 The archaic and puzzling record of Lake Xere Wapo, New Caledonia
      (pp. 381-394)
      Janelle Stevenson, Richard Gillespie, Geoff Hope, Geraldine Jacobsen, Stewart Fallon and Vladimir Levchenko

      Research into the palaeoenvironmental history of New Caledonia was begun independently by Hope and Stevenson in the early 1990s. While the original work of Hope and colleagues was centred around questions of the long-term vegetation dynamics of maquis and rainforest within the ultramafic terrain of New Caledonia (Hope and Pask 1998; Read et al. 2000), Stevenson and colleagues were exploring questions of human impact and the detection of initial human settlement (Stevenson and Dodson 1995; Stevenson 1998; Stevenson et al. 2001; Stevenson 2004). Hope and Stevenson later came together to work on the longest record so far recovered from the...

    • 22 Comparative AMS 14C dating of plant macrofossils, beetles and pollen preparations from two late Pleistocene sites in southeastern Australia
      (pp. 395-404)
      Nick Porch and A. Peter Kershaw

      In the Northern Hemisphere, late Quaternary chronologies are commonly constructed using AMS 14C dated plant macrofossils because they are generally argued to provide the most reliable chronology (MacDonald et al. 1991; Törnqvist et al. 1992; Snyder et al. 1994; Birks and Birks 2000; Hatté and Jull 2007). Although terrestrial macrofossils are often relatively abundant and well preserved in a variety of site types, they are still potentially subject to a range of complications that include reworking, movement of dissolved organic carbon, contamination by modern carbon due to inappropriate storage and analysis, and potentially, measurement effects relating to small sample sizes...

    • 23 Can Myrtaceae pollen of the Holocene from Bega Swamp (New South Wales, Australia) be compared with extant taxa?
      (pp. 405-428)
      Andrew H. Thornhill

      Bega Swamp (Figure 1) is a seldom disturbed restiad-shrub bog (Hope et al. 2000) located 50 km inland at the eastern side of the Southern Tablelands in Wadbilliga National Park, New South Wales (36° 31’ S, 149° 30’ E) at an altitude of around 1080 m and with a mean annual rainfall of 800 mm to 1200 mm (Polach and Singh 1980). Rainfall is a limiting factor to plant growth in the region (Donders et al. 2007). It is thought that the swamp originated as a valley fill between Yankee Creek and Bemboka River (Polach and Singh 1980) and occupies...

    • 24 The evolution of a coastal peatland at Byron Bay, Australia: Multi-proxy evidence from the microfossil record
      (pp. 429-442)
      Kathryn H. Taffs, Brendan Logan, Jeff F. Parr and Geraldine E. Jacobsen

      Peatlands are highly valuable ecosystems for their ecological functions as well as their economic and societal values (Charman 2002). Yet they are also highly vulnerable to degradation by a range of anthropogenic activities and climate change (Charman 2002; Gorham and Rochefort 2003; O’Connell 2003; Rochefort et al. 2003; Vasander et al. 2003). In Australia, peatlands are an unusual and infrequent component of the landscape (Whinam et al. 2003), mostly distributed in the alpine areas of the southeast of the continent (Clarke and Martin 1999). However, areas of peat also occur in the coastal lowlands, often in dune swales, both on...

    • 25 Development of mountain peatlands in stable equilibrium with open-channel hydraulics: A new concept in peatland formation and maintenance
      (pp. 443-456)
      Rachel Nanson

      Peatlands are often perceived to be relatively fragile ecosystems that are sensitive to fluctuating water tables and disrupted by channel formation. The Barrington Tops region of New South Wales exhibits peatlands and channels that have coevolved to form stable equilibrium systems not previously recognised in upland systems. The channels have adjusted their cross-sections, bedforms and planform to optimise flow efficiency and limit vertical peatland development. This research summarises these conditions for several peatland channels.

      High channel bank strength is afforded by dense vegetation that facilitates optimal hydraulic efficiencies with unusually low channel width/depth ratios of ~2. Such channels frequently flow...

    • 26 Glacier crippling and the rise of the snowline in western New Guinea (Papua Province, Indonesia) from 1972 to 2000
      (pp. 457-472)
      Michael L. Prentice and S. Glidden

      Whereas surface temperatures in the tropics (20°N-20°S) have increased ~0.13°C/decade between 1979 and 2005 (Trenberth et al. 2007), the smaller warming of the lower tropical troposphere over this interval, ~0.06°C/decade, is within the error of the measurements (Karl et al. 2006). This situation is problematic because it calls into question climate model results that show vertical amplification of tropical surface warming (Karl et al. 2006). More specifically, climate models, with natural and anthropogenic forcing, show a decadal-scale warming trend that increases with elevation in the troposphere. On the other hand, several types of observation in the tropics show less warming...

    • 27 Altitudinal limits of 230 economic crop species in Papua New Guinea
      (pp. 473-512)
      R. Michael Bourke

      Temperature extremes set limits on the growth of all crop species. In mountainous regions, such as Papua New Guinea (PNG), there is a regular and linear decrease in temperature with increasing altitude. This regularity is known as the lapse rate (McAlpine et al. 1983:92).¹ This relationship is sufficiently precise to enable altitude data to be substituted for temperature data. Furthermore, in regions located at low latitudes, the temperature differences from north to south at a given altitude are small, and similarly, seasonal variation in temperature is very small.² This means that estimates of average yearly temperature can be made from...