The late Quaternary vegetation history of the south-central highlands of Victoria, Australia. I. Sites above 900 m



    1. Centre for Palynology and Palaeoecology, Department of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3168, Australia
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Abstract The late Quaternary vegetation communities of the south-central highlands of Victoria are reconstructed from analyses of pollen and charcoal, and associated environmental conditions derived from the record of Nothofagus cunninghamii and alpine and sclerophyll taxa preserved in four subalpine Sphagnum bogs. The highest site occurs amid Eucalyptus paudflora woodland, the two intermediate sites are surrounded by Eucalyptus delegatensis forest and the lowest by a mixed forest of E. delegatensis/Eucalyptus regnans. Small pockets of N. cunninghamii occur within the eucalypt forests, and in close proximity to all four sites. Around 32 000 BP the vegetation consisted of a mosaic of alpine feldmark and herbfield, with small scattered groves of Nothofagus and Eucalyptus well below 1100m. Summer temperatures were probably 5°C lower than present with lowest values, probably 7° to 8°C below present, possibly between 17 000 and 13 500 BP, at which time alpine communities reached their greatest extent and much of the Central Highlands was treeless. After ca 13 500 BP herbaceous alpine taxa disappeared and there was an associated movement upslope of Nothofagus and tall open forest taxa to their maximum post-glacial extent, as temperatures and effective precipitation increased, ca 6000 BP. The retraction of cool temperate rainforest and wet sclerophyll or tall open forest towards present day values indicates lower effective precipitation, generally rising temperatures and increased fire hazard. More recently, European activities have increased the stress on the remaining forests. The study of four sites has demonstrated die importance of analysing a number of sites within a given area in order to overcome the limitations imposed by sites which were sub-optimal due to one or more factors including poor preservation, problems of dating, variable sedimentation rates, and the influence of streams which flow close to all sites. While die local environment varies between sites, and some vegetation changes are successional, this study shows that the local records complement one another, to some extent reinforcing die regional picture of vegetation and environmental change.