Aim This study aims to improve our understanding of the late Cenozoic history of Australian rain forest and sclerophyll biomes by presenting a detailed pollen record demonstrating the floristic composition and orbital-scale patterns of change in forest communities of upland south-eastern Australia, during the Early Pleistocene. The record is examined in order to shed light on the nature of the transition from rain forest-dominated ‘Tertiary’ Australian vegetation to open-canopied ‘Quaternary’ vegetation.
Location Stony Creek Basin (144.13° E, 37.35° S, 550 m a.s.l), a small, infilled palaeolake in the western uplands of Victoria, Australia.
Methods A c. 40-m-long sediment core was recovered from the infilled palaeolake. Palynology was used to produce a record of changing vegetation through time. Multivariate analyses provided a basis for interpreting the composition of rain forest and sclerophyll forest communities and for identifying changes in these communities over successive insolation cycles.
Results Early Pleistocene upland south-eastern Australian vegetation was characterized by orbital-scale, cyclic alternation between rain forest and sclerophyll forests. Individual intervals of forest development underwent patterns of sequential taxon expansion that recurred in successive vegetation cycles. Diverse rain forests included a number of angiosperm and gymnosperm taxa now extinct regionally to globally. Sclerophyll forests were also diverse, and occurred under warm and wet climate conditions.
Main conclusions The Stony Creek Basin record demonstrates that as recently as c. 1.5 Ma diverse rain forests persisted in southern Australia beyond the modern continental range of rain forest. The importance of conifers in these rain forests emphasizes that they have no modern Australian analogue. Alternation in dominance between these forests and diverse, sclerophyllous open canopied forests was apparently driven by changes in seasonality, and may have been promoted by fire.