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Reimagining the relationship between Gondwanan forests and Aboriginal land management in Australia's “Wet Tropics”

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posted on 2021-04-19, 07:21 authored by P Roberts, A Buhrich, V Caetano-Andrade, Richard CosgroveRichard Cosgrove, A Fairbairn, SA Florin, N Vanwezer, N Boivin, B Hunter, D Mosquito, G Turpin, Asa Ferrier
The “Wet Tropics” of Australia host a unique variety of plant lineages that trace their origins to the super-continent of Gondwanaland. While these “ancient” evolutionary records are rightly emphasized in current management of the region, multidisciplinary research and lobbying by Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples have also demonstrated the significance of the cultural heritage of the “Wet Tropics.” Here, we evaluate the existing archeological, paleoenvironmental, and historical evidence to demonstrate the diverse ways in which these forests are globally significant, not only for their ecological heritage but also for their preservation of traces of millennia of anthropogenic activities, including active burning and food tree manipulation. We argue that detailed paleoecological, ethnobotanical, and archeological studies, working within the framework of growing national and world heritage initiatives and active application of traditional knowledge, offer the best opportunities for sustainable management of these unique environments in the face of increasingly catastrophic climate change and bushfires.


Many of the concepts presented in this paper have derived from conversations between the authors and Rainforest Aboriginal People over many years. We would particularly like to acknowledge and thank late Jirrbal Elder Aunty Maisie Barlow. We thank Ngadjon-jii Elder Uncle Ernie Raymont for his time and generosity, and for sharing his knowledge and expertise with us. Mamu Elders Stephen Purcell and Alf Joyce provided comments on the draft. We are grateful for feedback from Ellen Webber, Senior Scientist of the Wet TropicsManagement Authority, who provided useful comments on our revisedmanuscript and shared her insightful observations on the topics discussed here. We would also like to thank Ron and Deanna Stager, Judith Field, Laurance May, Bernie Hyland, Rebel Elick, and Bruce Gray of CSIRO Atherton herbariumfor all of their help with archeological research in the region over the years. P.R., V.C.A., and N.B. would like to thank the Max Planck Society for funding and support. This project has also received funding from the Australian Research Council Discovery Project grants (DP0210363 and DP0986579), La Trobe University LinkageGrants, Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering (ALNGRA12048B), the University of New South Wales, as well as the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 850709). We would like to thank Michelle O'Reilly for her help with Figures 2, 3, 4, and 5 and Thomas Roberts, Ray Mitchell, Rene van Raders, and Bradley Go Sam for their assistance with Figure 2. We thank the three reviewers for their thorough and constructive comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript.


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