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The influence of local elevation on the effects of secondary salinity in remnant eucalypt woodlands: Changes in understorey communities

Cramer, V.A., Hobbs, R.J. and Atkins, L. (2004) The influence of local elevation on the effects of secondary salinity in remnant eucalypt woodlands: Changes in understorey communities. Plant and Soil, 265 (1-2). pp. 253-266.

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Increasing land salinization in Australia is predicted to lead to severe declines in species diversity in affected areas, and perhaps significant numbers of species extinctions. Much of the diversity that will be lost consists of understorey and mid-storey species, yet the overwhelming majority of research has focussed on salinity tolerance in tree species. We investigated how the presence of a shallow, saline water table affected the understorey species composition, species richness and species diversity in two remnant Eucalyptus wandoo Blakely woodlands in the Western Australian wheatbelt. Species richness and species diversity were significantly lower in areas with a shallow water table at elevations < 0.5 m above the lowest local elevation, compared with both higher elevations and with areas of low elevation without a shallow water table. Species composition (Bray-Curtis similarities) was also significantly different in low elevation, saline areas. At one site, saline areas were colonized by native and alien species that were not present in the surrounding vegetation, yet the community that has developed does not contain either the species or structural diversity of the surrounding system. At the other site, no colonisation of saline areas by new species occurred. Even though small differences in elevation (< 0.5 m) at our study sites were important in moderating the impacts of salinity in areas with a shallow water table, the loss of species diversity, species richness and structural complexity in low-lying elevations indicated that the ecological risk from secondary salinity to species associated only with drainage lines, seasonally wet flats and other low-lying areas is severe. The priority is to identify those vegetation communities that are restricted to only low relative elevations within the landscape and that only occur in remnants predicted to be at a high risk of developing a shallow and saline water table.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Environmental Science
Publisher: Kluwer Academic Publishers
Copyright: © 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers.
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