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Australian Rainforests: Islands of Green in a Land of Fire

Australian Rainforests: Islands of Green in a Land of Fire
D.M.J.S. Bowman
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Publication Date: 

cloth, 345 p., $85

In Australia, islands of rainforest exist admidst an abundance of Eucalyptus. Why? This ecological peculiarity has been bewildering botanists and others for decades — these patches of rainforest scattered from Queensland to Tasmania, with their own species, microclimate and other distinctive characteristics. David Bowman skillfully explains all of the competing theories that have sought to explain this phenomenon, from Aboriginal fires to soil variations to climatic differences. With plenty of details and illustrations, this book certainly helps the reader to understand the complexity of this fascinating puzzle. Mr. Bowman argues in the end that fire has a large part to play in this patchy distribution because fire, like Australia's flora and climate, has changed over time. As Australia moved physically into a drier climate, Australian flora developed into a more a fire-tolerant biota, with rainforests representing the archaic remnants of a much more widespread flora of a former climatic regime. Mr. Bowman's analysis takes into account millions of years of changes as Australia moved, climates changed and life responded in a complex way. An excellent review of rainforests in Australia, Mr. Bowman's analysis will encourage further work on the paleobotanical and paleoecological history of Australia and will pave the way for contemporary efforts to save these rainforests for future generations.

— Edward J. Valauskas, Manager, Library and Plant Information, School of the Chicago Botanic Garden.