Palaeoecological indicators of biodiversity change through time

Pollen grain – Polygonum orientale

The aim of this project is to bring together key researchers in the area of palaeoecology (Flora and Fauna) in an intensive workshop forum for four days (at ANU’s Kioloa Coastal Campus 17-21 Nov 2013) to:

  1. Collate palaeoecological data from multiple sites in a format suitable for analysis.
  2. Work on key issues for a paper we would draft (for submission to a journal like Journal of Biogeography or Austral Ecology). Proposed submission in late January 2014.*
  3. Ignite efforts to enter palaeoecological data (entire pollen records) into a unified data format and re-invigorate efforts to enter this into the publicly available data format such as Neotoma.
  4. Develop a bigger network funded effort for palaeo data analysis through our Australian Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. Similar data collation and analysis could be done in New Guinea, Tasmania and Southeast Australia.

​* 2014 Update: The first of two proposed papers from the workshop, “Rewilding the tropics, and other conservation translocations strategies in the tropical Asia-Pacific region”, has been accepted by Ecology and Evolution. 

Group 1: North Australian Floral Group

Simon HaberleKristen WilliamsMark BushDan RosauerMat Prebble, Peter Kershaw, Patrick MossJon Luly, Janelle Stevenson, Ulrike ProskeCassandra Rowe, Simon Connor, Geoff Hope

The key issue addressed by this group will be related to the contribution that palaeoecology can make to the problem of "What is causing the expansion of woody vegetation across northern Australia during the second half of the 20th century?". Current hypotheses include:

  • a release from an anthropogenic fire regime after the colonisation of indigenous populations,
  • increased rainfall, and
  • increased CO2.

The workshop will give people time to collate and analyse pollen and charcoal data from sites across northern Australia (~35 sites) with surface (post 1950 AD when savanna thickening emerges as an issue), early European (1780-1940 AD, transition phase?) and pre-European (~ 1000-200 yr BP) levels that could then be analysed for range of variability in these different periods and the direction of change reflected in the pollen data across the region. Climate modeling (Dr Williams, CSIRO) and species distribution modeling (Dr Rosauer, ANU) will be critical contribution in order to investigate the role of climate, fire and CO2 in past and present species distribution in northern Australia. Prof Mark Bush, has analysed a dataset similar to this from the Andean tree line, where he looked at the direction of boundary migration due to a range of potential drivers (including increased temperature). By the end of the workshop we aim to have a database of northern Australian palaeoecological sites and a draft paper/report prepared.

Group 2: Australasian Faunal Group

Richard Corlett, Ken Aplin, Phil PiperJulien Louys, Stuart Hawkins, Marcel Cardillo, Emily Hanna

The key issue addressed by this group will be related to improving the database for prehistoric defaunation in the tropics (Asia-Pacific and Australia) using the review of Corlett 2012 as a springboard for refining our understanding of the impact of defaunation on the environment and society through time. Richard Corlett will be visiting ANU at the time of this workshop and will be involved in leading the data compilation and prospects for future analysis of this data (exploring inputs from phylogenetics and palaeoclimate).


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Updated:  29 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director/Page Contact:  Coordinator