Despite the great potential of palaeo-environmental information to strengthen natural resource policy, science and practical outcomes naturally occurring archives of palaeo-environmental and ecosystem service information have not been fully recognised or utilised to inform the development of environmental policy. In this paper, we describe how Australian palaeo-environmental science is improving environmental understanding through local studies and regional syntheses that inform us about past conditions, extreme conditions and altered ecosystem states. Australian innovations in ecosystem services research and palaeo-environmental science contribute in five important contexts: discussions about environmental understanding and management objectives, improving access to information, improved knowledge about the dynamics of ecosystem services, increasing understanding of environmental processes and resource availability, and engaging interdisciplinary approaches to manage ecosystem services. Knowledge of the past is an important starting point for setting present and future resource management objectives, anticipating consequences of trade-offs, sharing risk and evaluating and monitoring the ongoing availability of ecosystem services. Palaeo-environmental information helps reframe discussions about desirable futures and collaborative efforts between scientists, planners, managers and communities. However, further steps are needed to translate the ecosystem services concept into ecosystem services policy and tangible management objectives and actions that are useful, feasible and encompass the range of benefits to people from ecosystems. We argue that increased incorporation of palaeo-environmental information into policy and decision-making is needed for evidence-based adaptive management to enhance sustainability of ecosystem functions and reduce long-term risks.
Wetland managers are faced with an array of challenges when restoring ecosystems at risk from changing climate and human impacts, especially as many of these processes have been operating over decadal-millennial timescales. Variations in the level and salinity of the large crater lakes of western Victoria, as revealed over millennia by the physical, chemical and biological evidence archived in sediments, attest to extended periods of positive rainfall balance and others of rainfall deficit. The recent declines in the depth of these lakes have been attributed to a 15% decline in effective rainfall since AD 1859. Whilst some sites reveal state shifts following past droughts, the response of most wetlands to millennial-scale climatic variations is muted. Regional wetland condition has changed comprehensively, however, since European settlement, on account of extensive catchment modifications. These modifications appear to have reduced the resilience of wetlands limiting their capacity to recover from the recent 'big dry'. These sedimentary archives reveal most modern wetlands to be outside their historical range of variability. This approach provides a longer-term context when assessing wetland condition and better establishes the restoration challenge posed by the impact of climate change and variability and human impacts.