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Palustrine Wetlands

Palustrine wetlands are primarily vegetated non-channel environments (e.g. billabongs, swamps, bogs, springs and soaks) and have more than 30 percent emergent vegetation.

 

MILLENNIUM ECOSYSTEM ASSESSMENT REPORTING CATEGORY

Inland Waters

 

What ecosystem functions do palustrine wetlands perform?

 

Palustrine wetlands provide supporting habitat for many bird species, such as these Magpie Geese in the Lower Pine Rivers.

Palustrine wetlands provide high levels of ecosystem function under all function categories. Table 1 presents the relative magnitude palustrine wetlands perform different ecosystem functions (relative to other ecosystems) in SEQ. As areas which retain water in the dry Australian landscape these wetlands provide supporting habitat (e.g. refugia) for many species, a role which will become more critical under projected increases in climate variability. These wetlands, in combination with other wetland types (lacustrine, riverine, estuarine, subterranean) provide a connected network throughout the landscape which facilitates many processes including the movement of species. The high diversity of plants and animals adapted to living in palustrine wetlands are recognisably different than those in the terrestrial landscape and many provide biological control of pests in these surrounding environments.

As most palustrine wetlands are formed as depressions, in addition to retaining water they also retain soils and sediments and act as effective assimilators of nutrients. The high nutrient value of vegetation in these systems is well recognised by landholders and these systems are highly prised for livestock. While the nutrient and sediment assimilation and biotransformation functions of natural wetlands are well known and replicated in constructed wetlands, care must taken to ensure that the systems are not overloaded or these functions can be significantly impaired or lost.

In SEQ, water moving through networks of ecosystems has been significantly modified, leading to damaging floods and erosion.  Palustrine wetlands can play a major role in regulating disturbances by mitigating the impacts of flooding by retaining floodwaters and slowly releasing it. Vegetation and soil are important to regulating gases such as the sequestration of carbon. Vegetation provides shade and shelter for species and regulates microclimates. Palustrine wetlands contribute to scientific and educational opportunities. Many Traditional  Owners have strong connections with these ecosystems.

 

Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other Ecosystem Reporting Categories) palustrine wetlands perform each ecosystem function.

Ecosystem Function Category Ecosystem Function 0
1
2
3
4
5
Regulating Functions
Gas Regulation            
Climate Regulation            
Disturbance Regulation            
Water Regulation            
Soil Retention            
Nutrient Regulation            
Waste Treatment and Assimilation            
Pollination            
Biological Control            
Barrier Effect of Vegetation            
Supporting Functions
Supporting Habitats            
Soil Formation            
Provisioning Functions
Food            
Raw Materials            
Water Supply            
Genetic Resources            
Provision of Shade and Shelter            
Pharmacological Resources            
Cultural Functions
Landscape Opportunity            
 

What types of palustrine wetlands are in SEQ?

These ecosystems are predominanatly found on coastal alluvial plains, old loamy or sandy plains, undulating country on fine grained sedimentary rocks. Vegetation communties range from sedgeland, closed or open heath, swamps, shrubland / woodlands and open forest. These ecosystems are largely associated with Melaleuca sp. (often referred to as 'paper bark swamps'). Palustrine wetlands contain dominant species of Melaleuca quinquenervia, Eucalyptus robusta, Eucalyptus tereticornis, Eucalyptus latisinensis or E. exserta, Lophostemon suaveolens, Cyperus spp., Schoenoplectus spp. and Eleocharis spp., Melaleuca thymifolia, Banksia robur, Xanthorrhoea fulva, Hakea actites, Leptospermum. This Ecosystem Reporting Category contains the Regional Ecosystems: 12.3.4, 12.3.6, 12.3.8, 12.3.12, 12.3.13, 12.5.4, 12.5.9, 12.9-10.10, 12.9-10.11, 12.9-10.22, 12.12.12.

 

What is the area and extent of palustrine wetlands in SEQ?

 

Reeds and paper bark trees (Melaleuca) are common species in palustrine wetlands.

Links to other publications and websites

Australian Society for Limnology
WetlandInfo
Palustrine Conceptual Models
WetlandCare - Types of Wetlands
Ramsar Convention

Palustrine Wetlands cover approximately 305 km2, 1.21% of SEQ. This map shows palustrine wetlands occur mostly in the northern and western parts of SEQ. A large patch of palustrine wetlands can be found in Cooloola area in northern SEQ with other scattered remnants at Pumicestone, Bribie Island, Boondall, the Bremer floodplain, Redlands and north of Blackbutt.

 

What is the vulnerability of palustrine wetlands and threats to this ecosystem in SEQ?

The term ‘palustrine wetlands’ covers a very wide range of different habitat types with the common feature of reliance on wet conditions. As rainfall is very unpredictable in Australia these systems have a great degree of robustness and resilience to national climate variability. Plants and animals have adapted features such as migration, dormancy, breeding strategies etc to deal with this variability and they can 'bounce back' from extreme events to being hot spots of biodiversity. Wetlands do not cease to be wetlands during dry conditions and some areas may appear to be more terrestrial during these periods.  

Development, earthworks, draining, filling and water extraction can all harm or destroy palustrine wetlands and many wetlands in SEQ no longer exist or are significantly altered. Other threats include the impacts of climate change and poor agricultural practices. Feral animals such as cane toads, exotic fish and invasive plants spreading into a wetland can kill or overwhelm local species and upset the wetland’s natural balance. While fire is a natural process which wetlands have adapted to, very hot fires can do significant damage to wetlands. Uncontrolled fires can damage wetland plants; wetland peat soils can continue to burn long after the fire is extinguished on the surface and peat can take much time to recover. Excessive nutrients and sediments can damage the natural functioning of wetlands and lead to poor water quality and the increase of nuisance and public health issues such as odours and mosquitoes.

 

How do we manage palustrine wetlands in SEQ?

The Queensland Government Department of Environment and Heritage Protection has direct responsibility for the protection, conservation and management of wetlands in SEQ, a responsibility shared with local government and the Australian Government (for some wetlands of international significance). These responsibilities are found in laws passed by the Queensland parliament, laws of the Commonwealth, international obligations and in agreements between state, local and the federal governments. Policies laws and management plans cover aspects such as sustainable water use and extraction, land use planning, impacts on threatened and migratory species, development impacts, impacts on water quality, vegetation clearing. In addition to policies, legislation and plans the active management of wetlands by landholders, non-government organisations, SEQ Catchments and local councils play a major role in ensuring the health of wetlands in SEQ. 

Better recognition of the ecosystem services provided by palustrine wetlands would promote and encourage more informed and integrated decision making. If statutes do not allow for such values to be considered in decision making opportunities for sustainable wetlands management will be missed.  Considering palustrine wetland independently of the other aquatic systems in the landscape again can lead to poor decision making. Opportunities should be explored for considering landscape processes and the role that palustrine wetland play in this. This in turn may lead to the rehabilitation of existing wetland areas, possible reinstatement of others and multiple outcomes.