Microfossil, sediment and documentary records provide a history of European land use and its impact on the vegetation of the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia. Two sedimentary cores were analysed for their fossil pollen and charcoal composition. Chronologies were established using a combination of 210Pb, 14C and microfossil markers. Primary and secondary evidence for the spatial expansion of land uses in the region were compiled providing local-, bioregional- and regional-scaled European settlement histories. The settlement and land-use histories of the major vegetation types in the region were different and were closely determined by the nature of the vegetation itself. The sedimentary and microfossil records indicate that wetland and terrestrial vegetation have undergone sequential changes of composition. There is evidence of a decline in fire-sensitive understorey species and the decline is likely due to intensive firing and grazing of scleropyllous woodlands and forests early in European settlement. Early-settlement native forestry practices were intensive, however they did not alter overstorey tree composition. Mid-twentieth-century wholesale vegetation clearance is clearly marked in the pollen record by a decline in Eucalyptus and increase in herbaceous species. Wetland vegetation was highly impacted by European land practices through changes to sediment inputs and hydrological conditions that began prior to catchment clearance, during the phase of intensive firing and grazing. Through the integration of multiscaled, ecosystem-specific historical settlement histories and palaeoecological analysis, correlations between past land uses and biotic responses can be confidently demonstrated.
Vegetation communities in Australia's riverine landscapes are ecologically, economically and culturally significant. They are also among the most threatened ecosystems on the continent and have been dramatically altered as a result of human activities and climate change. Vegetation of Australian Riverine Landscapes brings together, for the first time, the results of the substantial amount of research that has been conducted over the last few decades into the biology, ecology and management of these important plant communities in Australia.