Australian Megafauna: Impacts on Soils

Mar 2015
834
Europe
#61
It's a good argument, if we remain in the realm of the hunters-gatherers. So the extinction of the megafauna wasn't connected with farming activities but with hunting. It wasn't the human impact on the environment because of proto-agricultural activities to affect the megafauna, but the instinctive behavior of the human hunters.
Yes.
Also, there was the human impact on the environment due to changed fire regime (setting fires at times and places where natural causes like lightning might not have brought them). And when agriculture did arise, one major effect was supporting increased densities of hunters. Like cow and horse who did survive arrival of hunter-gatherers but were hunted to extinction by increased densities of farmers in 17th and 19th century respectively.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
25,509
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#62
Yes.
Also, there was the human impact on the environment due to changed fire regime (setting fires at times and places where natural causes like lightning might not have brought them). And when agriculture did arise, one major effect was supporting increased densities of hunters. Like cow and horse who did survive arrival of hunter-gatherers but were hunted to extinction by increased densities of farmers in 17th and 19th century respectively.

We are reasoning about Pleistocene, I wouldn't compare those human proto-societies with well more populous societies from recent past [and with a certain techonolgy, also industrial ...].

Regarding the fire regime, pay attention that also prehistoric hunters used to set grass on fire to push herds of potential preys towards a natural obstacle, to facilitate the hunt. When the fire went out of control ... [and there weren't firefighters around ...].

In any case, to use fire to give more room to a plantation [to leave it grow naturally] is still an activity in the field of "professional gatherers" ... if they didn't seed.

One of the criticisms that I'm reading about Pascoe's work is that he stretches the definition of agriculture. Without definitions, or stretching them, we could sustain almost all. This is why on a side I want to understand what Pascoe means and, about this thread, I have checked what "megafauna" is.
 

Ayrton

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,815
Bendigo
#63
The extent of First Peoples use of firestick should not be underestimated. It was pervasive right across the Australian continent. And it was very well controlled burning. The First Europeans Burns were the ones that neither understood how the landscape ecosystems functioned and often caused wildfires, some due to regrowth because of interrupted First Peoples management.

Basically, to use the kind of pejorative language usually coming from Eiropeans back at First Peoples, the First Peoples practiced advanced fire management strategies on the land, leading to food abundance, while the First Europeans used practices that were destructive and lead to all sorts of land problems. Basically, European understanding of Australian landscapes was ignorant (primitive?) to say the least.

I know you favour the idea that there were not enough humans to cause the extinctions, but I cordially disagree. Where First Peoples used the firestick they encountered megafauna. They used the firestick just about everywhere in one form of management or another. (It was not just burning willy nilly, there was careful knowledge about what they were doing).

And as I suggested in my last post, perhaps the First Australians hunted too successfully the larger slower moving megafauna who had no defences, or just altered their forest habitat to make it impossible for them to sustain themselves.

Another thing: why do we insist on a cataclysmic ice age for the death of the megafauna? There may have been instances of cataclysm that killed a lot at once, but individual species may have been hunted to extinction over a long period, or just declined in numbers, as I said above, because of habitat change, again, over a period of time.
 
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Ayrton

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,815
Bendigo
#64
I made a passing comment earlier in this thread about ‘green pick’ being a fast food approach to managing landscape, which I now regret making. I had it in my mind that herds and their associated ecology means deep soils, as if this is the only way to create soils other than forests reaching their climax communities. But I really should have known better.

Perhaps I have a subsconsius and illogical prejudice against slash and burn in the Australian landscape, where I think it belongs better to sub tropical or tropical climates. But the Australian Aboriginals did not slash and burn, they just made controlled burns to create abundance.

Bill Gammage talks endlessly about European impressions of many parts of the Australian landscapes being ‘Park like’, which means, in the context of the time, ‘like the parks of the European aristocracy’ with their manors and servants and all that stuff. This suggests more fertile landscapes than I keep hearing about in commentary on our ‘shallow infertile soils’.

There were grasslands in all sorts of ‘unnatural’ places, at least in what we know in ecological terms. Early Europeans constantly mention lush grasslands with small groups or sinhke trees in ‘odd’ places, and creating that ‘Park like’ look.

It is well known that European flocks quickly degraded these ‘natural’ parks. Erosion, salting loss of soils into rivers are just a few of the ecological impacts.

Anyhow, this creating of Park like areas I feel could very well coincide with the impact on the megafauna I have speculated about here. Hunting and landscape adaptation (to create abundance) was extensive, to judge by Bill Gammage’s researches.

Reading other books on early days of European settlement keeps throwing up descriptions of these open parklands. They are clearly not ‘natural’ in a wild sense. They are clearly manmade. At the same time, I continue to speculate, the megafauna was seriously impacted by the Aboriginals; and over many thousands of years seems more than plausible to me.
 
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specul8

Ad Honorem
Oct 2016
3,029
Australia
#65
I mentioned before about the 'New Hampshire Hills' area in Tasmania, and how early settlers named it that as it reminded them of that area in Hampshire 'at home' .

They thought it was a natural abberation in the rainforest. A good example of this 'assumption' many first Europeans made that came here .

But I notice my original source of this ( Flood ) has been expanded since I read it .

" First published in 1983, Archeology of the Dreamtime has been revised and updated with information from all the latest archaeological discoveries. A special feature is a totally new chapter of the Pleistocene in Tasmania. "
 

Ayrton

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,815
Bendigo
#67
I mentioned before about the 'New Hampshire Hills' area in Tasmania, and how early settlers named it that as it reminded them of that area in Hampshire 'at home' .

They thought it was a natural abberation in the rainforest. A good example of this 'assumption' many first Europeans made that came here .

But I notice my original source of this ( Flood ) has been expanded since I read it .

" First published in 1983, Archeology of the Dreamtime has been revised and updated with information from all the latest archaeological discoveries. A special feature is a totally new chapter of the Pleistocene in Tasmania. "

Adding that book to my Wishlist.
 

Ayrton

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,815
Bendigo
#68
For long as I can remember, I have had an interest in soil science, and that is why the great and rational work done by people like Bill Mollison, Alan Savory, Colin Seis and Elaine Ingram, and biomicry and permaculture and regenerative agriculture blah blah blah captivate and fascinate me.

Bill Gammage has made me look at Australian landscape with different eyes, and nothing he says is out of kilter with my long interest as mentioned in my first paragraph. Bruce Pascoe has made me look again, with something approaching (I hope) Aboriginal AND scientific eyes.

It all makes sense! And my sadness about what was done to our First Peoples deepens, though my respect for them grows with every new personal discovery or encounter with facts I had either never heard of or heard of but never understood.

They may (or may not) have had quite a hand in the extinction of many species of megafauna, but I will not judge them for it. Humans do stuff. Even otherwise smart people do stuff that turns out to have negative consequences.

As an extra thought: I was only thinking yesterday that maybe kangaroos were the smaller family members of their larger brothers and sisters that, because they were smaller, could find enough food still with diminishing resources around them, due to firestick managed landscape that over Millenia removed much of what the megafauna kangaooos ate; and because they were able to hop away quicker or hide in the diminishing fauna cover... [I am not an evolutionary biologist btw, you may have noticed. :)]
 

Ayrton

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,815
Bendigo
#69
I have been turning my thought quite a bit to firestick farming of late and begun to look up a little on slash and burn agriculture.

I now wonder if Aboriginal firestick farming began as slash and burn agriculture. And if over Millenia, with landscape flora and fauna change, the Aboriginals adapted to exist according to a part agricultural part hunter-gatherer existence. So in some ways the Aboriginals degraded their environment - including having a hand in megafauna extinctions - while changing their habits to some degree to continue to provide for their own abundance, clearly with great success in some places at the time of European arrival, yet on a far less varied diversity of food sources than when they first arrived here themselves?

It seems clear that the Australian continent did not have ruminant herds, so I begin to imagine that the Australian continent was largely forested when the Aboriginals first arrived. With hunting and slash and burn agriculture were the forests here, wet or relatively dry, depending on location, slowly transformed into drylands (dominated by fire dependant flora) and deserts?

According to basic succession theory, bare parent materials become gradually soil, activated and ‘developed’ in that direction by biology (bacteria to begin with, to lichens and suchlike, then flora and fauna). This is the way of things of natural succession as I understand it providing temperature extremes and rainfall are within certain bio-tolerant parameters. So we move in stages from bare rock to forests as climax communities. This natural succession can be interrupted by natural cataclysms of one sort or another.

Another interruption to natural succession toward a forest , are herds of migrating ruminants and their associated communities, that keep forests from growing while perpetuating pasturelands of grasses and forbs mainly. While doing so, soils become incredibly diverse biological communities in their own right.

In Australia, the lack of herding animals would suggest to me that, without the hand of man (holding a firestick), the way would lead in the direction of a largely forested continent.

I begin to wonder if most deserts on earth are actually man made one way or another.

Regenerative farmers are showing clear results in turning barren areas back into abundant landscapes, recharging aquifers and preventing floods etc. etc. all over the world in dry places. Again, management for abundance, with modern knowledge of ecology to mimic their practices on.
 
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sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,067
Sydney
#70
.
Don't underestimate human predation as an extinction factor

humans are the deadliest predator of all , in every continents save Africa humans appearance coincided with massive extinction event , sheer bad luck or those beasts didn't just fall of an ecological cliff ...they were pushed
 

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