Enclosed basins (glacial and nonglacia) of Tasmania contain the most comprehensive record in Australia of trends in a regional vegetation and climate since the late Pleistocene. Seven pollen sequences, each continuous and extending back at least 10,000 years, are used to reconstruct the history of postglacial vegetation and climate in Southern Tasmania (42°S–43°30′S). Interpretations are supported by a study of the modern pollen rain. Postglacial climates in Tasmania were characterized by a strong west-to-east decrease in precipitation. During the late Pleistocene, climates were markedly colder and drier than at present, and the vegetation was largely devoid of trees. A major rise in temperature between ca. 11,500 and 9500 yr B.P., accompanied by rising effective precipitation, resulted in the expansion of Eucalyptus, then other trees, across Tasmania. This warming trend may have been temporarily reversed during the early postglacial. Dry climates delayed the development of forest in inland eastern Tasmania until after ca. 9500 yr B.P. There is no evidence for a major change in climate since this temperature rise. Two broad phases of development have occurred within the postglacial forests. The first was an early Holocene phase during which Nothofagus cunninghamii cool temperate rain forest developed in western Tasmania and on the slopes of mountains in central and southeastern Tasmania. Eucalyptus sclerophyll forests developed in eastern Tasmania and have remained dominant there since. By ca. 7800 yr B.P. rain-forest communities were established beyond present-day limits. The second phase was a mid to late Holocene phase during which forests and alpine vegetation became more open in structure, leading to the re-expansion of Eucalyptus and shade-intolerant species. During the early to mid Holocene, climates in Southern Tasmania were wetter and (? then) warmer than at present. Maximum and minimum dates for this “optimum” are 8000 and 5000 yr B.P. Since then, climates have become increasingly rigorous, possibly through an increased incidence of inequable “weather types” leading to an increase in the frequency of drought and frost. Structural changes in the postglacial vegetation of Southern Tasmania closely parallel those at equivalent latitudes in New Zealand and Chilean South America, hence are likely to reflect the same primary cause.
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