, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp 379-399

Ecology, disturbance and restoration of coastal saltmarsh in Australia: a review

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Abstract

It is clear that saltmarshes are a unique and important component of the coastal biosphere of Australia. Their contribution ranges from stabilisation of fine sediments and providing an excellent protective buffer between land and sea, to their diverse blend of terrestrial and marine fauna. Further, saltmarsh plants are highly specialised and adapted to fill a harsh niche allowing them to act in roles that other vegetation types cannot. Saltmarsh habitats are recognised for their importance to migratory waders under the Ramsar convention, but it is becoming increasingly evident that they are also important to a variety of commercially valuable fish and native mammal species. Activities that are detrimental to saltmarshes continue and need to be addressed in order to conserve remaining saltmarsh areas. In general, urbanisation of the catchment has lead to filling of saltmarshes, tidal restriction, use by recreational vehicles, grazing, trampling and increased sedimentation and nutrient runnoff allowing colonisation and invasion of mangroves. These disturbances have a number of ecological consequences ranging from weed infestation to complete changes in the species composition and ecology. Reversing the disturbance is not always simple and can require extensive groundwork to be successful. Rehabilitation of existing saltmarsh areas has been a successful means to enhance this habitat. In general, it requires relatively little effort to remove weeds and fence off areas to regenerate naturally. Saltmarsh areas have been shown to respond well to this type of manipulation. Restoration and creation require substantial effort and planning to ensure a successful outcome. However, given the right environmental combinations of elevation, tide and salinity, saltmarsh will establish and grow. To speed the process transplantation of saltmarsh plants can be considered either from donor sites or plants propagated in green houses.