Fire, humans and climate as drivers of environmental change on Broughton Island, New South Wales, Australia

Scott Mooney, Geoffrey Hope, Dylan Horne, Johan Kamminga, Alan N. Williams

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    In Australia, the drivers of precolonial fire regimes remain contentious, with some advocating an anthropogenic-dominated regime, and others highlighting the importance of climate, climatic variability or alternatively some nexus between climate and human activity. Here, we explore the inter-relationships between fire, humans and vegetation using macroscopic charcoal, archaeology and palynology over the last ~5430 cal. year BP from Broughton Island, a small, near-shore island located in eastern Australia. We find a clear link between fire and the reduction of arboreal pollen and rainforest indicators on the island, especially at ~4.0 ka and in the last ~1000 years. Similarities with comparable palaeoenvironmental records of fire in the region and a record of strong El Niño (dry, fire-prone) events supports the contention that climate was a significant influence on the fire regimes of Broughton Island. However, two periods of enhanced fire activity, at ~4000 years BP and ~<600 years BP have weaker links to climate, and perhaps reflect anthropogenic activity. Changes to the fire regime in the last ~600 years corresponds with the earliest evidence of Indigenous archaeology on the island, and coincides with implications that Polynesian people were present in the region. After the mid-Twentieth Century a human-dominated fire regime is also an obvious feature of the reconstructed fire record on Broughton Island.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1528-1539
    JournalThe Holocene
    Issue number11
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


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