Product vs. process? The role of geomorphology in wetland characterisation

P. E. Lisenby, S. Tooth, T. J. Ralph

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference abstract


    Wetland classification has become a primary tool to characterise and inventorise wetland landscapes, but wetlands are difficult to classify because they straddle the terrestrial and aquatic boundary and occur in a variety of topographic and hydroclimatic settings. Presently, many ecological wetland classification schemes are focused on the ‘hydrogeomorphic’ unit, which attempts to account for the physical setting of a wetland. However, in many cases landforms are defined in topographic terms (e.g. flats, slopes) rather than geomorphological terms (e.g. oxbow, floodplain), and no attempt is made to characterise the process-form relationships of wetland landforms. The current misrepresentation of product geomorphology (i.e. topography rather than landforms) and underrepresentation of process geomorphology (i.e. lacking process-landform relationships) means that many current wetland classification schemes represent an inaccurate and static attempt to characterize geomorphologically dynamic wetland landscapes. Here, we use examples from wetlands in the drylands of Africa, Australia, and North America to identify the capacity for adjustment (form and timescale of adjustment) of wetland landforms and we relate this capacity to the geomorphological concepts of landform sensitivity and sediment connectivity. We highlight how geomorphological insights into process-landform relationships and timescales of landform adjustment can add value to wetland classification efforts with important implications for wetland management and ecosystem service delivery. We submit that geomorphology has a much larger role to play in wetland characterization and can reinforce existing wetland classification schemes. More participation by the geomorphology community in wetland science and more awareness by the ecology community in recognising and characterising wetlands as dynamic landscapes will facilitate more effective wetland research and management.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationBritish Society for Geomorphology Annual Meeting 2018
    Subtitle of host publicationProgramme and Abstracts
    EditorsT. Irvine-Fynn, S. Tooth
    PublisherAberystwyth University
    Number of pages1
    Publication statusPublished - 10 Sep 2018
    EventBritish Society for Geomorphology Annual Meeting -
    Duration: 10 Sep 201812 Sep 2018


    ConferenceBritish Society for Geomorphology Annual Meeting
    Internet address


    • geomorphic adjustment
    • landform dynamics
    • management
    • wetland classification

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    Lisenby, P. E., Tooth, S., & Ralph, T. J. (2018). Product vs. process? The role of geomorphology in wetland characterisation. In T. Irvine-Fynn, & S. Tooth (Eds.), British Society for Geomorphology Annual Meeting 2018: Programme and Abstracts (pp. 68). Aberystwyth University.