Aim To reconstruct the Late Glacial and Holocene vegetation history of western Tasmania and to test the long-held notion of a replacement of forest by moorland during the mid to late Holocene in western Tasmania, Australia.
Location Western Tasmania, Australia.
Methods Fossil pollen data were screened with a modern pollen dataset using detrended correspondence analysis and charcoal data were analysed using significance tests.
Results At the landscape scale, the distribution of vegetation types in western Tasmania has remained remarkably stable through the post-glacial period. Open moorland has dominated the landscape since the Late Glacial, while rain forest expanded at that time in to areas which it occupies today. Vegetation development in the Holocene is markedly different and charcoal values are significantly higher when compared with those in previous interglacial periods.
Main conclusions The dominant paradigm of a replacement of rain forest by moorland across western Tasmania during the mid to late Holocene is not supported by this regional analysis. The arrival of humans in Tasmania during the Last Glacial Stage provided an ignition source that was independent of climate, and burning by humans through the Late Glacial period deflected vegetation development and facilitated the establishment of open moorland in regions occupied by rain forest during previous interglacial periods. It is concluded that the present dominance of the landscape of western Tasmania by open moorland is the direct result of human activity during the Late Glacial and that this region represents an ancient cultural landscape.