Soil and plant outcomes of harvesting a Noongar staple geophyte in south-western Australia

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Abstract

Geophytes are a considerable component of Southwest Australian flora and thus, unsurprisingly, feature heavily in the diets and culture of Noongar First Nations people of this old, climatically buffered, infertile landscape-dominated global biodiversity hotspot. Of ~650 geophyte species recorded in south-western Australia, 90 are known traditional Noongar foods. Despite the significant role of geophytes in Noongar traditional lives, there is little published knowledge of the ecological effects of harvesting geophytes. We measured and observed soil and plant outcomes of tuber harvest for two Noongar staple species of Platysace Bunge to test whether it improved soil conditions for plant growth and/or aided tuber availability, as suggested for other Australian Aboriginal root crops. Harvesting of Platysace deflexa led to increases in some soil nutrient levels and, unexpectedly, to an increase in bulk density. Platysace deflexa stem abundance was restored to the pre-harvest level within 1 year post-harvest, whereas tuber weight and volume were less than pre-harvest levels after 2 years. A post-harvest increase in the proportion of small tubers in crops suggests that harvest has a renewing and homogenizing effect on tubers. Site-based differences in post-harvest P. deflexa and Platysace trachymenioides quantity of tubers were consistent with preferential harvest of some populations by present-day Noongar families and their ancestors.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2020

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