Freshwater wetlands are a key component of the global carbon cycle. Wet–dry tropics wetlands function as wet-season carbon sinks and dry-season carbon sources with low aquatic metabolism controlled by predictably seasonal, yet magnitude-variable flow regimes and inundation patterns. However, these dynamics have not been adequately quantified in Australia’s relatively unmodified wet–dry tropics freshwater wetlands. A baseline understanding is required before analysis of land-use or climate change impacts on these aquatic ecosystems can occur. This study characterises geomorphology and sedimentology within a seasonally connected wet–dry tropics freshwater wetland system at Kings Plains, Queensland, Australia, and quantifies soil carbon stocks and wet- and dry-season aquatic metabolism. Soil carbon stocks derived from loss-on-ignition on samples to 1 m depth were 51.5 ± 7.8 kg C m−2, higher than other wet–dry tropics wetlands globally, with potential for long-term retention at greater depths. Gross primary productivity of phytoplankton (GPP) and planktonic respiration (PR) measured through biological oxygen demand bottle experiments in the water column of sediment inundated under laboratory conditions show overall low GPP and PR in both wet- and dry-season samples (all wetland samples were heterotrophic with GPP/PR < 1). Despite the short-term dominance of aquatic respiration processes leading to net release of carbon in the water column under these conditions, there is appreciable long-term storage of carbon in sediment in the Kings Plains wetlands. This demonstrates the importance of wet–dry-tropics wetland systems as hotspots of carbon sequestration, locally, regionally and globally, and consideration should be given to their conservation and management in this context.
Wetlands in Drylands: conservation through environmental research, citizen science and global engagement
Tim Ralph (Participant)
Impact: Science impacts, Environment impacts, Policy impacts, Society impacts