In Search of Wild Rice in the Atherton Tablelands: Assessing the Quaternary vegetation history of savannah-to-wetland sites in northeast Queensland using phytolith and geochemical proxies..

Australian wild rice taxa are important components of savannah-to-wetland ecosystems in north Queensland that are currently under threat from agricultural weeds as well as domestic and feral animal encroachment. This fragility is exacerbated by a changing climate, heralded by more extreme fluctuations in precipitation and temperature affecting the intransience of savannah-to-wetland environments. Gaining an insight into the past distribution and palaeohistory of the wild rice taxa and their associated plant communities is the best way to obtain a measure of their adaptive fitness to a changing environment. If we hope to maintain a sustainable level of species and genetic diversity within our wilderness communities, it is important to understand the effects climate changes might have on such specialised ecosystems. Many plant species within these savannah-to-wetland communities have taphonomically robust silicon dioxide storage systems. These ‘phytoliths’ provide an ideal vegetation proxy to complement geochemical and existing pollen data.

A major output of this research project will be a detailed phytolith database for northeast Queensland. The intended project outcome is a robust knowledge of savannah-to-wetland dynamics over the Holocene with an improved understanding of the causes of wetland changes in these seasonally dynamic environments. The information obtained has cross-disciplinary applicability and should hold special relevance for the arenas of agricultural science, archaeology, palaeobotany and geochemistry.

Funding: Australian Postgraduate Award, AINSE Postgraduate Research Award

Advisors: A/ Prof Patrick Moss, Prof Jamie Shulmeister

Project members

Loraine Watson-fox

Loraine Watson-fox

PhD candidate