A highlight from How humans have changed natural environments


We end with another book and another author in this year of captain. Cook member him. Dr david mabley takes us back to those european beginnings in australia. When left tenant james cook came to australia. In seventeen seventy he and his natural super kogo joseph banks were surprised by the relative openness of the vegetation of botany bay as was their natural history artist sydney parkinson who wrote the trees quite free from underwood appeared like plantations in gentleman's park everywhere. Cook and other early. European commentators wrote of smoke from fires set by aboriginal people. These observations about a small part of the huge corpus of literature illustrations brought together by bill gammage to make the compelling case for the ancient very heavy fire management and therefore enormous botanical modification of eastern australia by aboriginal people long before european settlement the first australians had modified largely by fire it would seem the australian landscape such that they could co exist in an apparently sustainable way with the plants and animals here in many parts of the country the highly modified vegetation known as a fire climax dominated by those of the original tree species adapted to fire regimes to lightning expanded symbiotically with a clever new bipeds at the expense of less fire tolerant species with opening up the vegetation and they're increasing prominence grosses adapted tolerance of grazing. My superiors powerful to humans with apple. Main change in the landscape because they usually ecological successes trees would have been nibbled away as seedlings the human fire grass grazing. Animal system is not unique to australia. But by the time of the first doctrine british arrivals here the first. Australians had tens of thousands of years to reach such a kind of mutual listrik equilibrium. But it would be foolish to have some kind of rosie russo esque view of that first human infiltration of the continent as it was to be with later european conquest. There's likely to have been a number of casualties. In terms of animal implants extinctions it is still hotly debated as to how much of the original megaphone for example was held on its way but the story and other parts of the world suggests that arrived with the first humans had as usual a devastating effect. Humans a good of ecosystem modification sometimes with disastrous consequences for them and the rest of the environment in terms of the well-known collapse of civilizations like the meyer but the speed with which this modification happened in the distant pass shown by the example of europe with the withdrawal of the ice sheets at the end of the last glaciation. The tundra vegetation was grazed by animals including mammoths and we know what happened to them in urbanizing africa and asia. Today we are now. Witnessing similar end of the pachyderms besides many many other animals and associated plants reliant on them for dispersal in europe as it warmed that came the forest maximum. But if you travel to save britain today there is no original forest in fact no original vegetation left at all save. Perhaps on a few mansion talks and sea cliffs the whole north european is an artifact of just ten thousand years of human activity and such landscapes with those over much of eastern other coastal australia. In seventeen seventy watches. Surprising in europe is that the richest habitats today include grasslands with kids and other small plants that must have been very rare in the forest maximum and maintained by the in sizes of introduced animals. Particularly sheep take away the sheep and a species poor secretary scruffy woodland similarly native north americans extended the prayer is through their management of bison the eastern united states was in fact desk wooded than it is today and firewood was a precious resource so that the locals on seeing europeans arrived by ship drew the reasonable conclusion that the settlers must have run out of firewood at home the only good reason to move away similarly in the upper blue mansions where i live. The forest surrounded settlements now called black heath and mount victoria with visit by governor macquarie in eighteen fifteen. He named them hines. Low heath and one tree hill do not give such names too heavily. Forested places the botanical revelation that comprise the european recording of australia's plants from sixteen o six until the arrival. Here of charles. Darwin an aching thirty six was the result of a combination of pursuits with different motives. The initial search for riches comparable with those in south america yielded digital tara. Australia's turning out to be a largely arid constant with no crew suited to european agriculture. By the immense mineral wealth. Australia remained largely hidden then came the concern about rival spheres of influence of european powers in the pacific especially britain and france. The real reason for major expeditions. Being dispatched and land claimed incidental to establishing such presences was the collecting of natural productions. Usually with a hope that these will be resources to allow colonists to survive without financial support from the european masters. charles. Darwin visit australia in eighteen thirty six and later in his monumental book variation of animals and plants under domestication effectively. The evidence for much of his theory of natural selection in the hastily drawn up origin of species he wrote of the potentially economic plants in australia has often been remarked that we do not a single use for plant to australia or the cape of good hope or to new zealand. They're plants have not been improved and consequently count compete with those which have been cultivated and improved during thousands of years in europe similarly blinkered shortly afterwards thomas livingston mitchell misinterpreted aboriginal grain harvesting haymaking. When in fact there was loss has now been posited as an aboriginal greenbelt right across the interior of the country with grindstone's argued to been made up to twenty five thousand years ago. It's true that internationally traded edible australian commodities comprised products from species encountered by europeans after darwin's visit and that he was echoing opinions considered irrefutable. In fact at first the most useful species commercially with timbers most of which were then still described scientifically such included red cedar tuna liotta especially from the hunter valley who pine arrow kara cunningham. Eli from the brisbane. Area and many eucalyptus sydney blue gum eucalyptus cigna being said to be the most generally useful of all the australian woods. Dr david mabley. Former director of our oldest scientific institution the royal botanic gardens sydney. His books superb the flurry. Jim is available any day now.

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