The ephemeral inundation of floodplains in semi-arid and arid zone climates is an essential driver of biological productivity. Natural biota depend on floodplain inundation to support critical reproductive life phases. In historical times, grazing industries have developed taking advantage of phases of high productivity associated with the overbank flow. However, the modelling of inundation in lowland floodplains is challenged by the complexity of topographic and hydrodynamic constraints. Here we apply a spatially explicit fine-scale inundation model to compare floodplain inundation regimes associated with current hydrological development on the Darling River floodplain, Australia, and pre-development, conceptualised as the removal of hydrological control structures. Our results suggest that hydrological developments in the Darling River catchment have substantially increased inter-flood period, an effect particularly pronounced during dry climatic phases. The result explains the decline in waterbird utilisation in this section of the Darling River, the low resilience of outer floodplain vegetation to the recent drought, and the reduction in grazing capacity. Water resource development had less impact on large inundation events.
- Overbank flow
- Water development scenarios
- Predictive inundation mapping