Bridge and Barrier: Reconstructing the fire history of lungtalanana and truwana, Bass Strait, Tasmania — Prof. Simon Haberle

Lecture Theatre 1 -- Rm 106
Life Sciences Building
College Road, Sandy Bay Campus
University of Tasmania
15 Mar 2019

The Fire Centre is excited to welcome Prof. Simon Haberle, Director of the School of Culture, History & Language and Professor of Natural History at the Australian National University. Simon will be discussing an ongoing project reconstructing the Fire History of the Furneaux Island Group.

Here’s a recording of the seminar for those of you who missed it:


There has been remarkably limited archaeological and paleaoenvironmental research in the Bass Strait Islands given their significance for understanding Aboriginal impacts on the environment, especially through burning, and changing patterns of land use in response to climate variability and sea level change. Given the antiquity of human colonization, it is difficult to clearly separate anthropogenic and natural influences on Australian and Tasmanian fire regimes. However, the archipelago of the Furneaux Group represents an extremely important case study to investigate the environmental consequences of changing intensity of Aboriginal fire management on Australian ecosystems under past climates and affords an opportunity to evaluate fire regimes influenced by different land use. In 2014 we were invited to undertake a study of the environmental impacts of a severe fire on Clarke Island, known by the Tasmanian Aboriginal community as lungtalanana, and in 2017 the Truwana Rangers invited us to survey charcoal records from the newly designated Ramsar wetlands of Truwana (Cape Barron Island), initiating a study of the long-term fire regime history of the islands. A key dimension of this work has been to contextualise the extreme fire events that have occurred in the last few decades using sedimentary charcoal and pollen analysis of sedimentary cores. In the course of this fieldwork we discovered a lake that preserves over 80,000 years of island environmental history, well before human colonisation of Tasmania which occurred c. 40,000 years ago. This is a very significant discovery, which has the potential to illuminate the environmental history of the Furneaux Group, that have acted as both bridge and barrier to human populations over the millennia. Here we present the new palaeoenvironemntal records and discuss the implications of reconstructing long-term environmental histories for ongoing land management and conservation of wetland ecosystems.


Simon completed his PhD at ANU on the Late Quaternary Environmental History of the Tari Basin, Papua New Guinea, in 1994. While holding postdoctoral positions at the Smithsonian (STRI, Panama) and at the University of Cambridge he continued to pursue his interest in the role of past climate change and human activity on tropical and temperate ecosystems through work in the Amazon Basin and southern South America. His research is currently focussed on the application of high-resolution palaeoecological analysis to our understanding of the impact of climate variability and human activity on terrestrial ecosystems of the Pacific and Indian Oceans during the Holocene. He is also developing e-Research tools in palaeoecology such as the Australasian Pollen and Spore Atlas and the PalaeoWorks website. He is currently using his knowledge of Australian pollen to explore the impact of atmospheric pollen and spores on respiratory health.