Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 279–292 | Cite as

Resilience of coastal freshwater wetland vegetation of subtropical Australia to rising sea levels and altered hydrology

  • Rebekah GriegerEmail author
  • Samantha Capon
  • Wade Hadwen
Original Article


Coastal freshwater wetlands are amongst the world’s most modified but poorly researched ecosystems and some of the most vulnerable to climate change. Here, we examine vegetation resilience in coastal wetlands of subtropical Australia to altered salinity and flooding regimes likely to occur with climate change. We conducted field surveys and glasshouse experiments to examine plant diversity and regeneration responses of understorey and canopy species across four habitats. Vegetation composition, but not richness, varied between seaward and inland habitats while soil seed bank diversity was greatest in more inland sites. Experimental salinity and flooding treatments strongly influenced emergence from seed banks with most species germinating under fresh, waterlogged conditions and very few in saline treatments. Composition of emerging seedling assemblages was similar across habitats and treatments but differed considerably from the extant vegetation, indicating a relatively minor role of soil seed banks in sustaining current vegetation structure in this wetland. An exception to this was Sporobolus virginicus (marine couch) which was common in both the vegetation and seed banks suggesting a high capacity for this species to re-establish following disturbances. Seedlings of dominant canopy species also reacted strongly to increased salinity treatments with decreased survivorship recorded. Overall, our findings suggest a high probability of constrained vegetation regeneration in this wetland in response to key projected climate change disturbances with implications for vegetation diversity at a landscape scale including declines in the extent and diversity of more landward vegetation communities and expansion of salt-tolerant marshes dominated by Sporobolus virginicus.


Flooding Germination Salinity Seed banks Seedlings Climate change 



We greatly appreciate the support of B. Brockett and S. Price who assisted with field surveys and experimental setup, B. Coutts who assisted with species identifications and the reviewers who made useful suggestions on improving the manuscript. We thank the staff of Boondall Wetland Education centre for their support and local knowledge.

Funding information

Funding was provided by Griffith University School of Environment through the honours program.

Supplementary material

10113_2018_1399_MOESM1_ESM.docx (4.3 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 4437 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Australian Rivers InstituteGriffith UniversityNathanAustralia
  2. 2.School of EnvironmentGriffith UniversityNathanAustralia
  3. 3.Griffith Climate Change Response ProgramGriffith UniversityNathanAustralia

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