Wetlands Ecology and Management

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 359–372 | Cite as

Predicted risks of groundwater decline in seasonal wetland plant communities depend on basin morphology

  • David C. Deane
  • Claire Harding
  • Kane T. Aldridge
  • Abigail M. Goodman
  • Susan L. Gehrig
  • Jason M. Nicol
  • Justin D. Brookes
Original Paper


In regions of the world where the climate is expected to become drier, meeting environmental water needs for wetlands and other dependent ecosystems will become increasingly challenging. Ecological models can play an important role, by quantifying system responses to reduced water availability and predicting likely ecological impacts. Anticipating these changes can inform both conservation and monitoring effort. We used water-plant functional group models to predict the effects of a declining water table for two wetland types reliant on the surface expression of groundwater but of contrasting basin morphology. Our interest was in quantifying the relative sensitivity of these wetland types to different amounts of groundwater decline. For the shallower, grass-sedge wetland, terrestrial plant probabilities increased markedly for declines between 0.25 and 0.5 m, but amphibious and submerged functional groups changed predictably, or not at all. However, mean inundated area reduced by over 70% for a 0.5 m groundwater decline, suggesting loss of area posed the greatest risk in this wetland type. In the deeper, steep-sided interdunal wetland, inundated area changed little, but models suggest clear transitions in plant functional group composition. Sedge-group probabilities increased sharply for declines between 0.25 and 0.5 m, while declines between 0.5 and 1.0 m predicted the loss of submerged species. As might be anticipated, the risks associated with groundwater level decline depend on basin morphology. However, by quantifying probable ways in which this will manifest in different wetland types, model predictions improve our ability to recognise and manage change.


Groundwater-dependent ecosystem Plant functional group Predictive model Wetland bathymetry Wetland monitoring Wetland typology 



This work was funded by the Goyder Institute for Water Research under project E.2.5. The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the Wetlands Working Group of the South East NRM Board in scenario development, particularly M. Herpich, T. Bond, S. Clark and D. Herpich. ForestrySA are also acknowledged for their support of the work.


Funding for this project was provided by the Goyder Water Research Institute, project E.2.5.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11273_2017_9578_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (261 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 261 kb) Online Resource 1 - we provide a single PDF document with the results of linear regression analysis of surface water and groundwater levels for eight wetlands in the region


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Environment Institute and School of Biological SciencesUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Environment,Water and Natural ResourcesMount GambierAustralia
  3. 3.South Australian Research and Development InstituteAdelaideAustralia
  4. 4.Department of Renewable ResourcesUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  5. 5.Murray-Darling Freshwater Research CentreLa Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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