The pollen record

Studies of the accumulated sediments of volcanic lakes (maars) on the Atherton Tableland have provided one of the longest and Lake Eacham
Photographer: EPAmost detailed continuous vegetation and climatic records in the world. Fossil pollen records go back over 200,000 years. They are of unparalleled continuity and detail for this period. The pollen record from the Atherton Tableland maars is globally significant because it:

  • embraces entire glacial cycles and offers an opportunity to understand how global climate change has affected forest types and particular plant species.
  • demonstrates that the Wet Tropics rainforests and sclerophyll communities have undergone dramatic recent changes in composition and distribution as a result of changes in rainfall and climate.
  • contains direct evidence of plant extinctions in the late Quaternary period.
  • provides a record of increased charcoal sediments between 38,000 and 26,000 years ago, as well as changes in forest structure which have been attributed to an increase in Aboriginal burning.

The pollen record is also important for future management. It helps to identify potential refugia for plant species during times of extreme climate change. It emphasises that protected areas must be large enough to accommodate changes in plant communities due to climate change.

Some maars such as Lake Eacham, Lake Barrine and Lake Euramoo are in protected areas. Others are on private lands and the pollen record may be threatened. For instance, Lynch’s Crater has undergone peat mining since 1985, as well as draining and burning of vegetation and peat sediments by the dairy industry.

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