, Volume 147, Issue 2, pp 237-250

How do depth, duration and frequency of flooding influence the establishment of wetland plant communities?

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Abstract

In many temporary wetlands such as those on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales Australia, the development of plant communities is largely the result of germination and establishment from a long-lived, dormant seed bank, and vegetative propagules that survive drought. In these wetlands the pattern of plant zonation can differ from year to year and season to season, and depth is not always a good indicator of the plant community composition in different zones. In order to determine which aspects of water regime (depth, duration or frequency of flooding) were important in the development of plant communities an experiment using seed bank material from two wetlands was undertaken over a 16 week period in late spring–early summer 1995–1996. Seed bank samples were exposed to 17 different water-level treatments with different depths, durations and frequencies of flooding. Species richness and biomass of the communities that established from the seed bank were assessed at the end of the experiment and the data were examined to determine which aspects of water regime were important in the development of the different communities. It was found that depth, duration and frequency of inundation influenced plant community composition, but depth was least important, and also that the duration of individual flooding events was important in segregating the plant communities. Species were grouped according to their ability to tolerate or respond to fluctuations in flooding and drying. The highest biomass and species richness developed in pots that were never flooded. Least biomass and species richness developed in pots that were continuously flooded. Short frequent floods promoted high species richness and biomass especially of Amphibious fluctuation-tolerator species and Amphibious fluctuation-responder species that have heterophylly. Terrestrial species were able to establish during dry phases between short floods. Depth was important in determining whether Amphibious fluctuation-tolerator or Amphibious fluctuation-responder species had greater biomass. Longer durations of flooding lowered species richness and the biomass of terrestrial species. Experiments of this kind can assist in predicting vegetation response to water-level variation in natural and modified wetlands.