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

Neil Saintilan*, Kerrylee Rogers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)

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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-79
Number of pages14
JournalMarine and Freshwater Research
Volume64
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

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