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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 61(6)

Response of estuarine wetlands to reinstatement of tidal flows

Alice J. Howe A, José F. Rodríguez A D, Jennifer Spencer B, Geoff R. MacFarlane C, Neil Saintilan B

A School of Engineering, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW 2308, Australia.
B NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, Sydney South, NSW 1232, Australia.
C School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW 2308, Australia.
D Corresponding author. Email: jose.rodriguez@newcastle.edu.au
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The importance of estuarine wetlands to ecosystem services such as primary productivity and flood attenuation, as well as their function as habitat for threatened species has prompted efforts to restore tidal flows to degraded wetlands. We tracked the response of estuarine vegetation to tidal-flow reinstatement over 12 years (1995–2007) in a wetland of the Hunter estuary, Australia. This site provides important habitat for migratory shorebird species, which favour shallow tidal pools and saltmarsh over mangrove forest. Increased tidal flows following culvert removal reduced shorebird roost habitat by 17% because of mangrove encroachment on saltmarsh and shallow tidal pools. Saltmarsh occurred in areas with a spring tidal range <0.3 m, hydroperiod <1.0 and elevation >0.4 above the Australian height datum (mAHD), whereas mangrove occupied areas with spring tidal range >0.3 m, hydroperiod <0.45 and elevation <0.4 mAHD. By using these parameters, it is possible to exclude mangrove from saltmarsh areas and to establish saltmarsh at lower elevations in the tidal frame than would occur under natural conditions, effectively expanding saltmarsh area. These measures can be useful where landward migration of estuarine communities is restricted by infrastructure; however, they should not be considered a substitute for conservation of remnant saltmarsh or establishment of landward buffer zones.

Keywords: Hunter estuary, mangrove, migratory shorebirds, saltmarsh, south-eastern Australia, wetland rehabilitation.

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