Detecting inundation thresholds for dryland wetland vulnerability

Steven G. Sandi, Patricia M. Saco, Neil Saintilan, Li Wen, Gerardo Riccardi, George Kuczera, Garry Willgoose, José F. Rodríguez*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    24 Citations (Scopus)


    Dryland wetlands receiving periodical floods are of key importance for ecological resilience. The inundation regime (i.e., frequency, duration, depth, and timing of inundation), is one of the major factors that determine the suitability of local conditions for specific wetland species. During droughts, inundation conditions can reach a threshold after which wetland vegetation could transition to dryland vegetation. This study analyses the response of vegetation to hydrologic variability in an arid wetland in Australia over a period of 22 years (including the Millennium drought) in order to identify inundation thresholds for transitions. We use numerical modelling, field observations and remote sensing data to relate continuous detailed simulations of the inundation regime with the response of patches of Common reed, Water couch and River red gum, three key vegetation associations in the study site. We focus in patches that were affected by the drought and presented dryland vegetation invasion as well as reference patches that remained healthy throughout the drought. On each patch, we compare annual and inter-annual simulated inundation regimes to the minimum inundation conditions that can support the specific vegetation, and we compute the percentage area of the patch that verifies minimum inundation for each year. We define this area percentage as minimum inundation index. This index is analysed in conjunction with Landsat derived information on green vegetation coverage (green Seasonal Fractional Cover) for the selected patches. We found that the minimum inundation index and inter annual frequency are able to describe the vegetation dynamics of the patches, which can be characterised by two distinct response modes that depend on a threshold value of the minimum inundation index. Inundation below the threshold noticeably leads to degraded vegetation, but the vegetation can recover quickly if this threshold is later maintained for one or two years. Values below the threshold for more extended periods (drought) result in a gradual decrease of wetland vegetation to almost complete disappearance after four years and subsequent dryland vegetation invasion.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)168-182
    Number of pages15
    JournalAdvances in Water Resources
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


    • Dryland wetlands
    • Inundation modelling
    • Macquarie Marshes
    • Minimum inundation requirements
    • River red gum
    • Seasonal fractional cover
    • Terrestrial vegetation invasion


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