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Habitat alters the effect of false starts on seasonal-wetland invertebrates

Strachan, S.R., Chester, E.T. and Robson, B.J. (2016) Habitat alters the effect of false starts on seasonal-wetland invertebrates. Freshwater Biology, 61 (5). pp. 680-692.

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Climate change is modifying the timing of the onset of winter rainfall in southern Australia, at times creating brief inundation events in seasonal wetlands, termed 'false starts'. False starts may cause abortive hatchings of fauna emerging from sediment egg banks because wetlands dry out before invertebrates can complete their life cycle or reach a drying-resistant life stage. A laboratory emergence experiment was used to determine whether the abortive hatching caused by false starts alters assemblage composition in the subsequent hydroperiod and whether the length of the dry period following a false start alters subsequent assemblage composition. Sediment for the experiment was collected from Lake Joondalup South, Swan Coastal Plain (SCP), Western Australia, because it has a relatively diverse assemblage of desiccation-resistant invertebrate propagules. Most wetlands on the SCP are seasonal and groundwater fed and the region has a mediterranean-type climate Two different habitat types, open water (OW) and fringing trees (FT), with distinct freshwater invertebrate assemblages are commonly found in SCP wetlands. We repeated the experiment in sediment from both habitats to determine whether false starts had the same effect on the two assemblages. Replicate sediment samples from both habitats were placed in microcosms randomly allocated to treatments or controls. To simulate false starts of differing dry-period duration, treatments were inundated for 5 days, then allowed to dry out for different time periods (10, 20 and 30 days) and then inundated for 5 days. Controls were inundated for time periods equivalent to the total duration of each false-start treatment (20, 30 and 40 days). FT sediment had higher organic matter and moisture content than OW sediment. The composition of the emerging assemblage differed between habitats, and emergence was slower from OW than FT sediment. Abortive hatching followed the false start in OW sediment, but subsequently the same assemblage emerged, showing reliance on the egg bank to resupply lost populations. Abortive hatching was not observed in FT sediment, where invertebrates survived drying during the false start, continuing to develop for up to 30 days without surface water, because those sediments retained moisture. Provided that winter-spring hydroperiods continue to inundate OW for several months, these results indicate that invertebrates will be able to complete their life cycles and replenish egg banks following abortive hatching, demonstrating resilience to false starts. False starts to winter inundation rarely occur more than a month prior to the start of 'true' winter rains, so FT assemblages are resistant to false starts, showing the ability to survive dry periods of up to 30 days. Furthermore, survival in damp FT sediment also gave these populations a 'head start', because the surviving assemblage was identical to the continuously inundated control. Assemblages emerging from beneath FT may potentially recolonise inundated OW habitat. So far, changes to SCP seasonal-wetland hydroperiods will be within the coping range of their invertebrate assemblages. As FT assemblages were more resistant to false starts, restoration schemes that increase shading by fringing vegetation should be encouraged.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Copyright: © 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
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