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What evidence exists for alternative ecological regimes in salinising wetlands?

Sim, L.L., Davis, J.A., Chambers, J.M. and Strehlow, K. (2006) What evidence exists for alternative ecological regimes in salinising wetlands? Freshwater Biology, 51 (7). pp. 1229-1248.

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1. Land clearing in Australia's southwest has led to widespread salinisation of aquatic ecosystems. Four different ecological regimes (clear, submerged macrophyte-dominated; clear, benthic microbial community-dominated; turbid, phytoplankton-dominated; and turbid, sediment-dominated) have previously been identified in the salinising wetlands of this region.

2. Monitoring data from seven saline wetlands over an 18-month period were used to evaluate whether a continuum, simple threshold or alternative regimes conceptual model (sensu Hydrobiologia, 200/201, 1990, 367; Hydrobiologia, 200/201, 1990, 475) most appropriately represented transitions between these ecological regimes. We also aimed to identify whether factors other than salinity played a major role in defining ecological regimes or causing shifts between them.

3. Ordination of biological variables revealed a separation of benthic microbial community-dominated from submerged macrophyte-dominated sites and times. The mean salinities of these two groups were very similar, suggesting that a salinity threshold was not responsible for benthic microbial versus macrophyte dominance. No other environmental variable was found to have a strong, direct influence on the groupings.

4. The dynamics of regime change in saline wetlands appear not to be driven by any single variable, but by the combined effects of salinity and water regime on species life histories and competitive abilities. Macrophytes were powerful competitors, able to germinate and establish under a range of salinities, turbidities and water depths, and were favoured by seasonal drying.

5. Data from the seven wetlands indicated that the continuum, simple threshold and alternative regimes conceptual models did not appropriately represent transitions between ecological regimes in seasonally drying wetlands. Macrophyte and benthic microbial regimes occurred at overlapping salinity levels, excluding both the continuum and threshold models, and the regular occurrence of drying appeared to preclude the alternative regimes model. Drying prevented the development of strong positive feedback mechanisms, which might otherwise have maintained the benthic microbial community-dominated regime. We hypothesise that an alternative regimes model might still be valid for salinising ecosystems holding permanent water.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Environmental Science
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Copyright: 2006 The Authors
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