Humans, megafauna and environmental change in tropical Australia

Bird, Michael I., Hutley, Lindsay B., Lawes, Michael J., Lloyd, Jon, Luly, Jon G., Ridd, Peter V., Roberts, Richard G., Ulm, Sean, and Wurster, Chris M. (2013) Humans, megafauna and environmental change in tropical Australia. Journal of Quaternary Science, 28 (5). pp. 439-452.

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Abstract

Debate concerning the environmental impact of human arrival in Australia has continued for more than a century. Here we review the evidence for human impact and the mechanisms by which humans may have affected the environment of tropical Australia. We limit our review to tropical Australia because, over three decades ago, it was proposed that the imposition of an anthropogenic fire regime upon human occupation of the Australian continent may have resulted in profound changes in regional vegetation and climate across this region. We conclude that ecological processes and vegetation–fire–climate–human feedbacks do exist that could have driven a significant shift in boundary conditions and ecosystem state at the sub-continental scale through the sustained imposition of an anthropogenic fire regime over tens of millennia. These potential feedbacks operate through the inhibition of forest expansion both directly, by targeted burning at established forest edges and newly irrupted forest patches, and indirectly, through lengthening of the dry season because of changes to the timing of burning. However, the impact of any such anthropogenic forcing may have been entirely overshadowed by the effects of natural climate change and variability, as well as the generally low nutrient status of Australian soils. A robust assessment of the degree to which the environment of tropical Australia at the large scale has been modified from its 'natural' state because of human occupation will require new, coordinated collaborations between indigenous traditional landowners, archaeologists, anthropologists, geochronologists, geoscientists, ecologists, climatologists and modellers.

Item ID: 28048
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1099-1417
Keywords: human impact, archaeology, megafaunal extinction, tropical palaeoclimate, fire regime, ecosystem change
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: FF0883221, DP130100334, FT120100656
Date Deposited: 11 Jul 2013 04:08
FoR Codes: 04 EARTH SCIENCES > 0406 Physical Geography and Environmental Geoscience > 040606 Quaternary Environments @ 50%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210101 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Archaeology @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9603 Climate and Climate Change > 960307 Effects of Climate Change and Variability on Australia (excl. Social Impacts) @ 50%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 50%
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