Changes in the abundance and diversity of the Proteaceae over the Cainozoic in south-western Australia

Freea Itzstein-Davey

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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South-western Australia is a globally significant hotspot of plant species diversity, with high endemism and many rare plant species. Proteaceae is a major component of the south-western flora, though little is known about how its diversity developed. This prompted the present study to investigate changes in the abundance and diversity of Proteaceae, in south-western Australia, by concurrently studying three sediment sequences of different ages over the Cainozoic and a modern pollen rain study. Modern pollen-vegetation relationships in the two Proteaceae species rich nodes of the northern and southern sandplains were quantified. It was found that Proteaceous genera can contribute up to 50% of the total pollen rain. Banksia/Dryandra pollen was the most abundant with Isopogon, Petrophile and Lambertia also commonly noted. The vegetation and environmental setting during three pivotal periods of the Cainozoic: Holocene, Pliocene and Eocene, were investigated. Eocene sediment from Lake Lefroy confirmed the presence of a Nothofagus dominated rainforest in the Middle to Late Eocene. At this time Proteaceae species were at least as diverse as today, if not more so, contributing up to a maximum of 42% of the total pollen rain. Taxa recorded included: Banksieaeidites arcuatus, Propylipollis biporus, Proteacidites confragosus, Proteacidites crassus, Proteacidites nasus and Proteacidites pachypolus. Several taxa remain undescribed and unnamed. This study also identified that Proteaceae pollen representation varies across small lateral distances. Thus as samples varied spatially and temporally, single core samples are not sufficient to identify spatial patterns in Proteaceae or other low pollen producing taxa. Some 7.91 cm of laminated Pliocene sediment from Yallalie, south-western Australia, was also examined. It covers 84 years of record and confirmed other regional reports that south-western Australia was covered by a rich vegetation mosaic consisting of heathy and wet rainforest elements. Although Proteaceae species were a consistent component of the pollen counts, diversity and abundance (maximum of 5%) was low throughout the studied section. Banksia/Dryandra types were most commonly noted. A 2 m core was retrieved from Two Mile Lake, near the Stirling Ranges and provided an early Holocene vegetation history. Geochemical and palynological evidence recorded little change, suggesting the environment of deposition was relatively uniform. Proteaceae species were noted throughout the core, though in low numbers, at a maximum of 3.5 % of the total pollen rain. Banksia/Dryandra was the most abundant while Isopogon, Lambertia, Petrophile and Franklandia were also noted. A regression model was developed through the modern pollen rain study to predict the number of Proteaceae in the vegetation. This was also applied to the fossil pollen records. The estimated number of Proteaceae species in the Eocene suggests a maximum of 20 and a minimum of 10 taxa. For the Pliocene record, an estimated 7 - 9 species was found and for the Holocene pollen, between 7 - 8 were present. Thus the Eocene was similar in Proteaceae diversity to today. The results from the Pliocene and Holocene suggest that Proteaceae diversity was lower than today. Findings of this research indicate that Proteaceae species are an important and consistent component of vegetation in south-western Australia over the Cainozoic. It is likely that both changing pollination mechanisms and changes in associated vegetation are important in the determining the dispersal of Proteaceaous pollen. By understanding how the vegetation has changed and developed in south-western Australia, present vegetation can be managed to include intra-specific variation and ensure the majority of species are conserved for present and future generations to enjoy.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2003

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