Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
REVIEW

Sequential floods drive ‘booms’ and wetland persistence in dryland rivers: a synthesis

Catherine Leigh A C , Fran Sheldon A , Richard T. Kingsford B and Angela H. Arthington A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Qld 4111, Australia.

B Australian Wetlands and Rivers Centre, University of New South Wales, NSW 2052, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: c.leigh@griffith.edu.au

Marine and Freshwater Research 61(8) 896-908 https://doi.org/10.1071/MF10106
Submitted: 5 5 2010  Accepted: 25 6 2010   Published: 13 August 2010

Abstract

Flow is a key driver regulating processes and diversity in river systems across a range of temporal and spatial scales. In dryland rivers, variability in the timing and scale of floods has specific ecological significance, playing a major role in sustaining biotic diversity across the river-floodplain mosaic. However, longitudinal effects of floods are equally important, delivering water downstream through channels and wetland complexes. Interaction among spatially distributed wetlands, their connecting channel and floodplain geomorphology and the temporally variable flow events not only creates the spatial complexity in dryland rivers but also determines temporal persistence of wetlands. These act as hydrological ‘sponges’, absorbing water from upstream and needing to fill before releasing water downstream. Sequential high flow events are essential for the ecological persistence of riverine wetlands and the transmission of flows further downstream through the channel network. These flood sequences maintain aquatic refugia and drive booms in productivity sustaining aquatic and terrestrial biota over large spatial and temporal scales. Disrupting the sequence, with modified flow regimes and water removal for diversion (e.g. irrigation), significantly reduces the opportunity for wetland replenishment. As a result, the benefits of sequential flooding to the wetland ‘sponges’ and their biotic communities will be lost.

Additional keywords: arid-zone rivers, boom and bust ecology, Cooper Creek, desert streams, floodplain rivers, hydrological connectivity, Murray–Darling Basin, water resource development, wetlands.


Acknowledgements

Queensland flow data for the Cooper Creek river system were provided to Catherine Leigh by the State of Queensland (Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Water) in 2006. Flow data for Cooper Creek at Cullyamurra were provided by the South Australian Department of Land, Water and Biodiversity Conservation in 2010 and are available online at http://e-nrims.dwlbc.sa.gov.au/swa/ (verified 9 March 2010). Integrated Quantity and Quality Model (IQQM) flow data for the Murray–Darling Basin were provided to Fran Sheldon by the New South Wales Department of Land and Water Resources in 1995. Doug Ward provided the Lake Eyre and Murray–Darling Basin illustrations in Fig. 3. We thank two anonymous reviewers and the editor for their comments on our manuscript.


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