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Australian rainforest tree dispersal by Aboriginal people

Reconstructing the dispersal of eastern Australian rainforest trees by pre-colonial Aboriginal people with genomic data

Over millennia, First Nations people in Australia have dispersed the propagules of plant species through trading, seasonal migration or attending ceremony.

This has led to the hypothesis that many plant populations have established in “un-natural” locations as living cultural artefacts. Molecular, linguistic and ethnographic data can be used to reconstruct the dispersal history of these culturally-significant plants and has previously illuminated the biogeography of crop domestication and trade. However, with non-domesticated species, it can be difficult to disentangle human influence from other “natural” factors such as climate change and animal or water dispersal. This talk will start with an overview of the multidisciplinary approaches required to investigate the legacy of the long-term human use and management of large-fruited rainforest trees. I will then present some preliminary genetic evidence for the human dispersal of Black Bean (Castanospermum australe) and Black Walnut (Endiandra globosa). I will end the talk with my experiences working in a cross-cultural setting and the importance of recognising the Intellectual Property of First Nations knowledge holders in ecological research.

Monica Fahey from the Evolutionary Ecology section of the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney presents her work in the video below.