Worldwide, estuarine research involving a long-term perspective to aid conservation and management has lagged behind terrestrial and lake environment research. Consequently, despite the obvious importance of estuaries, this means we have limited detailed knowledge of how they function or the ranges of natural variability they experience and how humans have, and will interact with these influences. Gaining a clear understanding using a long-term perspective is crucial if we are to maintain and restore the integrity of estuarine environments. While paleoecological studies in the ocean and lakes are well-established science, applications of paleoecological techniques in estuarine environments remains largely novel and in some cases problematic. In recent years estuarine paleoecological research has rapidly developed and an increasing range of technological applications is improving our understanding of the dynamic and variable nature of estuaries. The purpose of this book is to briefly describe estuarine form and function and to demonstrate the application of different paleoecological approaches used in estuaries that develop our understanding of their response to natural and human influences. Chapters 1–4 provide the framework for this book. They describe the characteristics of estuaries, important factors influencing them and introduce paleoecology as a useful tool for estuarine management. The following chapters (5–7) outline the essential steps required for undertaking a paleoecological study, in particular with regard to site selection, core extraction and chronological techniques, followed by the range of indicators that can be used. They are divided into geochemical proxies and pollutants (8–10) and biological proxies (11–18). The book concludes with a series of case studies (19–24): the first study focuses on sea level changes, while the rest present research from major estuaries (sensu lato) worldwide, to demonstrate how paleoecological studies can be used to address key questions, and to sustainably manage these important coastal environments in the future.
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.