Illuminating the dawn of pastoralism: Evaluating the record of European explorers to inform landscape change

Silcock, J. L., Piddocke, T. P. and Fensham, R. J. (2013) Illuminating the dawn of pastoralism: Evaluating the record of European explorers to inform landscape change. Biological Conservation, 159 321-331. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2012.11.030

Author Silcock, J. L.
Piddocke, T. P.
Fensham, R. J.
Title Illuminating the dawn of pastoralism: Evaluating the record of European explorers to inform landscape change
Journal name Biological Conservation   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0006-3207
Publication date 2013-03
Year available 2013
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1016/j.biocon.2012.11.030
Volume 159
Start page 321
End page 331
Total pages 11
Place of publication Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Publisher Elsevier BV
Collection year 2014
Language eng
Formatted abstract
The rapid spread of pastoralism across Australian and North American rangelands and the lack of reference sites mean that recurring arguments about the cause and magnitude of landscape change are frustrated by the rarity of records that predate the critical watershed of European settlement. The journals of European explorers from the 1840s are the first written descriptions of inland Australia. Prevailing paradigms based on a synthesis of published material relating to five key themes of environmental change are presented: vegetation structure, fire regimes, waterhole permanence, macropod abundance and medium-sized mammal assemblages. Six hypotheses relating to these themes were tested against the explorer record for inland eastern Australia. Nearly 4500 observations from fourteen journals spanning twelve expeditions between 1844 and 1919 were geo-referenced, using landscape features, distances, bearings and latitudes, combined with topographic maps and high-resolution satellite imagery. Careful evaluation of the record suggests little change in broad vegetation structure or waterhole permanence, running counter to prevailing paradigms. The sparse observations of fire suggest burning was infrequent and mostly restricted to creek-lines and higher-rainfall grasslands in the east and north of the study area and spinifex-dominated vegetation. Kangaroos were apparently uncommon in semi-arid areas where they are abundant today. The journals contain important observations of medium-sized mammals that are now extinct or rare. Our results highlight the importance of accurate geo-referencing compiled from entire journals of multiple explorers and contrasting the record with contemporary observation. Systematic evaluation of the explorer record for a region can provide ecological insights that are difficult to obtain by other means, and can be used to test prevailing assumptions common to arid systems that have been subject to abrupt management upheaval
Keyword Explorers
Vegetation change
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Official 2014 Collection
School of Biological Sciences Publications
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