2,000-year-old King Billy pines being sampled

Friday 13 Oct 2017

 
King Billy pines don't really look all that impressive — they're not the biggest, prettiest or widest of trees — but they can tell us a lot about our history. Athrotaxis selaginoides, known as King Billy or King William pines, are endemic to Tasmania and found throughout the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park.

The trees, which are actually conifers but not pines, have been used in an eight-year study by an international research team to understand the environmental history of Australia.

Kathy Allen from the University of Melbourne led the research team and said the process sampled living and dead trees. "We got several hundred trees or cores from these trees," she told Leon Compton on ABC Radio Hobart. "Some of the dead trees have been on the ground for 1,000 years and they're still solid logs."

Dr Allen said the small cores from the trunks of the trees allowed them to see the tree rings without cutting them down. The samples were then combined into what is called a tree ring chronology which dates back 1,700 years. The tree ring chronology shows the growth rate of the ancient trees, which can be used to interpret the climate and other environmental influences in Tasmania. Dr Allen said there was ongoing work to be done interpreting the tree ring chronology — not just looking at the climate, but also searching for evidence of things such as bushfires.

"We looked at approximate establishment dates for this site [Weindorfer Forest at Cradle Mountain] and for a place called Mount Read which also has some very old trees," she said. "We could tell for Cradle Mountain there seems to be what we call a reasonably even establishment over time. "That suggested to us that ... within the small sites that we looked at ... there hadn't been these major fires there in those conifer forests for about 1,700 years."

Dr Allen's study, titled A 1,700-year Athrotaxis selaginoides tree-ring width chronology from southeastern Australia, has been published in Denrochronologia. Source: ABC News

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