In the future, how will restorationists think about the past?

The extinct Toolache Wallaby, as painted by John Gould. Source:  Wikipedia.

The extinct Toolache Wallaby, as painted by John Gould. Source: Wikipedia.

It’s easy to argue that history has a bigger influence on why we restore ecosystems than on how we restore them. As climate change intensifies, that distinction can only grow. Continue reading

Bringing back the dead with old ecology photos

Mallee Swale Eucalypts Wyperfeld 1982 Cheal

Take a close look at the coppicing trees in the old photo above. Notice anything unusual?

Perhaps it looks like any other stand of burnt mallee? Perhaps it does. But most of the trees aren’t resprouting after a fire. They aren’t recovering from drought, insect attack or damage by humans either. What could have caused the damage? Continue reading

Forgotten woodlands, future landscapes

Hans Heysen Droving into the Light

Hans Heysen’s famous painting, Droving into the Light. Art Gallery of Western Australia.

Picture a gorgeous woodland in the early 1800s. What do you see? Majestic gum trees with bent old boughs, golden grasses, a mob of sheep or kangaroos, and a forested hill in the distance? The luminous landscape of a Hans Heysen painting, perhaps.

It’s an iconic Aussie landscape. But something’s missing. The trees are wrong. Or at least, they aren’t all there. Continue reading

Dense old trees: bitter and twisted ‘charismatic megaflora’

Suppressed trunk inverseWe all know an old paddock tree when we see one: broad, deep, canopy; sagging, tangled branches; broken boughs full of hollows. The classic woodland tree. But how do you recognize an old tree that grew – not in the open – but in a closed, dense stand? It won’t have a big, wide canopy nor a thick, wide trunk if its growth was suppressed by neighbors. Continue reading

Reading the bush: juxtapositions in history

old-callitris 2013cAn old post about an old post…

Everyone sees something different in a patch of bush. I usually wonder: were these patterns that we see created by natural forces (such as soils and geology) or by a hidden mosaic of past disturbances?

Most times, I work in ecosystems with a long history of human disturbances, such as clearing and felling, grazing and burning. Their imprints can be both indelible and invisible, but more often, just plain forgotten. Yet we need to know how disturbances have altered natural ecosystems, so we can predict how our activities will alter ecosystems in the future.

The best way to see the imprint of past disturbances is by combining field evidence and archival documents, like old reports and maps. But we often have to rely solely on field skills. Just as the science of geology required the law of superposition – which simply states that sediments were laid down sequentially, so lower strata are older than upper strata – so historical ecology requires the ability to see key juxtapositions. By observing how things are arranged in space, we can develop a chronology of past events and an informed narrative of ecological change. Continue reading