Archaeologists and palaeoecologists are increasingly turning to stable isotope analysis (δ 13 C, δ 18 O) of fossil bioapatite to examine interactions of human and animal populations. However, relatively few investigations have focussed on the identification of natural variation in comparable modern populations, particularly within the Australian context. In this paper, we present the first modern isotopic reference dataset for Tasmanian bare-nosed wombat teeth (Vombatus ursinus tasmaniensis). Samples for δ 13 C bioapatite and δ 18 O bioapatite measurements were recovered sequentially at sub-monthly resolution from all tooth types. δ 13 C bioapatite showed little variation within a seasonal sinusoidal pattern within the sample set (n = 24 wombats; 35 teeth) due to the homogeneous C 3 distribution of plants in Tasmania. In contrast, δ 18 O bioapatite profiles varied seasonally, representing time periods of between 0.9 and 2.1 years in 95% of the sample. Significant differences between tooth types were found from intra-individual to inter-regional scales for both dental growth rates and isotopic values. The accuracy of season-of-death assessments differed across the island; those in eastern Tasmania were accurate in all instances whereas those in the west showed substantial inaccuracies. We suggest that this may be due to the elodont form of wombat dentition and the ecologically influenced seasonally varied diet in western Tasmania. As the rate of dental growth is positively correlated with the proportion of coarse vegetation within the diet, this seasonal variation is therefore likely to change how annual isotopic signals are incorporated into the enamel. These results highlight the need to understand the degree of species-specific isotopic variation at a range of scales before applying this technique to archaeological or palaeontological assemblages.
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.