Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems

Ecological risk to aquatic systems from salinity increases

Barry T. Hart, P. S. Lake, J. Angus Webb and Michael R. Grace

Australian Journal of Botany 51(6) 689 - 702
Published: 01 December 2003


Salinity is a major problem in many regions of Australia, and is predicted to get considerably worse over the next 30–50 years. Most effort has focused on the terrestrial environment, and specifically on the loss of productive agricultural land. Increased salinity can also result in unwanted changes to aquatic ecosystems in rivers, streams and particularly wetlands.

This paper first reviews the importance of assessing risks from salinity increases in a catchment context, and then introduces a disturbance–response conceptual model to assist with the understanding of such situations. Two factors are shown to be particularly important in assessing which freshwater systems will be most susceptible to increases in salinity—the location of the systems in the landscape, and the current ecological condition of the system. The resilience of an ecosystem to salinity disturbances is shown to be a useful concept which with further knowledge may be incorporated into risk-assessment approaches.

The development of a new ecological risk assessment approach for assessing risks to aquatic systems in the Goulburn–Broken catchment from increases in salinity over the medium (20 years) and long (100 years) term is reported. The risks to the biota in Hughes Creek, a tributary of the Goulburn River, are assessed by using a probabilistic approach. Current salinity levels in the creek present a low risk to the biota.

Finally, the paper addresses the challenge of making the ecological risk assessment method more quantitative by discussing the following two key aspects: how to better quantify the linkages between the key stressors and the biotic components, and how to better handle uncertainties.

© CSIRO 2003

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