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Retreating Melaleuca swamp forests in Kakadu National Park: Evidence of synergistic effects of climate change and past feral buffalo impacts


Bowman, DMJS and Prior, LD and De Little, SC, Retreating Melaleuca swamp forests in Kakadu National Park: Evidence of synergistic effects of climate change and past feral buffalo impacts, Austral Ecology, 35, (8) pp. 898-905. ISSN 1442-9985 (2010) [Refereed Article]

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DOI: doi:10.1111/j.1442-9993.2009.02096.x


Melaleuca swamp forests form a fringe around seasonally inundated freshwater flood plains of Kakadu National Park (KNP). Previous studies based on the analysis of aerial photography reported an increase in woody plant cover on these flood plains, apparently associated with changed fire regimes, increased rainfall and possibly increased atmospheric CO2. In opposition to this woody vegetation encroachment past high densities of feral buffalo in the 1960 to mid 1980s changed the hydrology of the KNP flood plains, allowing increased penetration of saltwater causing extensive death of Melaleuca forests. Climate change has increased sea levels and there is concern that this will threaten the freshwater ecosystems of KNP. We hypothesized that Melaleuca forests that were previously impacted by high densities of feral buffalo have continued to decline because of salinization driven by sea level rise. We examined this hypothesis by overlaying georeferenced aerial photography taken in 1964, 1984 and 2004 in a geographic information environment, and then constructing generalized linear fixed effects and mixed effects models to rank the statistical strength of different drivers of Melaleuca forest contraction. We found that there has been a 5% overall contraction of Melaleuca forests over the last 50 years on our study sites, although the amount of contraction varied both geographically and temporally. The amount of Melaleuca forest contraction was greatest during the 19842004 interval, when buffalo densities were low. Contraction was greatest on the Melaleuca forest edges, at low-lying sites, and where high densities of buffalo were apparent in 1964. These results suggest the enduring legacy effect of past buffalo damage will amplify the effects of sea level rise on the flood plains of KNP.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:aerial photography;feral animal impact;forest decline;landscape change;multimodel inference
Research Division:Environmental Sciences
Research Group:Ecological applications
Research Field:Landscape ecology
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Management of Antarctic and Southern Ocean environments
Objective Field:Assessment and management of Antarctic and Southern Ocean ecosystems
UTAS Author:Bowman, DMJS (Professor David Bowman)
UTAS Author:Prior, LD (Dr Lynda Prior)
ID Code:66868
Year Published:2010
Web of Science® Times Cited:20
Deposited By:Plant Science
Deposited On:2011-02-16
Last Modified:2011-05-12

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