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The loss of an indigenous constructed landscape following British invasion of Australia: An insight into the deep human imprint on the Australian landscape

Abstract

Indigenous people play an integral role in shaping natural environments, and the disruption to Indigenous land management practices has profound effects on the biosphere. Here, we use pollen, charcoal and dendrochronological analyses to demonstrate that the Australian landscape at the time of British invasion in the 18th century was a heavily constructed one—the product of millennia of active maintenance by Aboriginal Australians. Focusing on the Surrey Hills, Tasmania, our results reveal how the removal of Indigenous burning regimes following British invasion instigated a process of ecological succession and the encroachment of cool temperate rainforest (i.e. later-stage vegetation communities) into grasslands of conservation significance. This research provides empirical evidence to challenge the long-standing portrayal of Indigenous Australians as low-impact ‘hunter-gatherers’ and highlights the relevance and critical value of Indigenous fire management in this era of heightened bushfire risk and biodiversity loss.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge an Australian Research Council Grant to Fletcher (IN170100063). We thank Scott Nichols, Amy Hessl and students from the University of Melbourne class GEOG30025: Biogeography and Ecology of Fire (2019) for help in the field. Fletcher is an Associate Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH).

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Correspondence to Michael-Shawn Fletcher.

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Fletcher, MS., Hall, T. & Alexandra, A.N. The loss of an indigenous constructed landscape following British invasion of Australia: An insight into the deep human imprint on the Australian landscape. Ambio 50, 138–149 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-020-01339-3

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Keywords

  • Cultural heritage
  • Dendrochronology
  • Fire
  • Indigenous Australia
  • Palaeoenvironments
  • Western Tasmania