Vegetation changes in Hexham Swamp, Hunter River, New South Wales, since the construction of floodgates in 1971

Geoff Winning, Neil Saintilan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Hexham Swamp (32° 52' S, 151° 41' E), the largest wetland on the floodplain of the lower Hunter River, New South Wales (ca. 2500 ha in area), historically supported extensive areas of estuarine wetlands. Substantial vegetation changes have occurred following the 1971 construction of floodgates on the main creek draining the swamp. Previous areas of mangroves have been reduced from180 ha to 11 ha, and saltmarsh from 681 ha to 58 ha. Phragmites australis reedswamp has expanded from 170 ha to 1005 ha. Much of the mangrove loss (ca. 130 ha) was a result of clearing, and the remainder has gradually died off. The factors contributing to the dieback are likely to be a combination of drying of the soil, and, at times, waterlogging. Field sampling indicates that a reduction in soil salinity has been an important factor initiating successional change from saltmarsh to Phragmites reedswamp. The data also suggest that increased waterlogging has been an important factor in vegetation change. The initial effect of the floodgates was expected to have been a drying of the swamp, followed over time by an increasing wetness (floodgates and associated drainage are generally intended to reduce the flooding of wetlands). The apparently paradoxical result is likely to have resulted from occlusion of drainage lines by sediment and reeds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-194
Number of pages10
JournalCunninghamia
Volume11
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

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