Contemporary distribution of Macrozamia dyeri (Zamiaceae) is correlated with patterns of Nyungar occupation in south‐east coastal Western Australia

Alison Lullfitz, Ron (Doc) Reynolds, Annie Dabb, Lynette Knapp, Carol Pettersen, Stephen Hopper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Indigenous societies’ interactions with plants may result in contemporary distribution patterns that reflect these relationships, such as concentration of resource species close to occupation sites or transport routes. Seeds of the cycad, Macrozamia dyeri, are food of Nyungar First People of the south‐eastern Southwest Australian Floristic Region. Processing of seeds by leaching in soil or water enables detoxification and preservation of the pre‐colonial staple, a Nyungar technique archaeologically dated to at least 13 000 years BP. We measured the distance of M. dyeri populations to cultural landscape features and registered heritage sites. We also compared within‐population plant distribution characteristics to Nyungar occupation preferences around granite inselbergs. We found evidence of Nyungar influence on contemporary distribution of M. dyeri. Populations of M. dyeri occur close to surface water features in the west and granite outcrops in the east of Nyungar country, which corresponds closely to differential pre‐colonial patterns of Nyungar occupation. M. dyeri population frequency was negatively correlated with distance to registered Nyungar sites, and 75% of all M. dyeri populations occur within 3.2 km of a registered Nyungar site. We found no correlation between habitat availability and size of granite populations, but found that Nyungar occupation preferences in relation to ground surface aspect, slope and landform type correlated with intra‐population M. dyeri plant distribution, suggesting a mutualistic relationship with Nyungar people, has influenced the plant’s distribution. We suggest that contemporary M. dyeri distribution is therefore useful for interpreting past location‐specific Nyungar land practices to inform contemporary conservation management. Our findings demonstrate that along with edaphic, climate and other environmental factors, consideration of pre‐colonial human dispersal and land practices is important for plant conservation in Australia, particularly for taxa with prolonged use by humans. Further, we suggest that analyses of long‐lived Macrozamia elsewhere may be useful for interpreting past Aboriginal land practices.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAustral Ecology: a journal of ecology in the Southern Hemisphere
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2020

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