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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 64(1)

The significance and vulnerability of Australian saltmarshes: implications for management in a changing climate

Neil Saintilan A C and Kerrylee Rogers B

A Office of Environment and Heritage, Department of Premier and Cabinet. PO Box A290, Sydney South, NSW 1232, Australia.
B School of Earth and Environmental Science,University of Wollongong, Northfields Ave, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia.
C Corresponding author. Email: neil.saintilan@environment.nsw.gov.au

Marine and Freshwater Research 64(1) 66-79 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MF12212
Submitted: 8 August 2012  Accepted: 1 November 2012   Published: 6 February 2013


 
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Abstract

We review the distribution, status and ecology of Australian saltmarshes and the mechanisms whereby enhanced atmospheric carbon dioxide and associated climate change have influenced and will influence the provision of ecosystem goods and services. Research in temperate and subtropical saltmarsh has demonstrated important trophic contributions to estuarine fisheries, mediated by the synchronised mass-spawning of crabs, which feed predominantly on the C4 saltmarsh grass Sporobolus virginicus and microphytobenthos. Saltmarshes also provide unique feeding and habitat opportunities for several species of threatened microbats and birds, including migratory shorebirds. Saltmarshes increased in extent relative to mangrove in Australia in both tide- and wave-dominated geomorphic settings through the latter Holocene, although historic trends have seen a reversal of this trend. Australian saltmarshes have some capacity to maintain elevation with respect to rising sea level, although in south-eastern Australia, the encroachment of mangrove and, in Tasmania, conversion of shrubland to herbfield in the past half-century are consistent with changes in relative sea level. Modelling of the impacts of projected sea-level rise, incorporating sedimentation and other surface-elevation drivers, suggests that the survival of saltmarsh in developed estuaries will depend on the flexible management of hard structures and other impediments to wetland retreat.

Additional keywords: accretion, sea-level rise, temperature, wetland.


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