Niche differentiation and regeneration in the seasonally flooded Melaleuca forests of northern Australia
Franklin, DC and Brocklehurst, PS and Lynch, D and Bowman, DMJS, Niche differentiation and regeneration in the seasonally flooded Melaleuca forests of northern Australia, Journal of Tropical Ecology, 23, (4) pp. 457-467. ISSN 0266-4674 (2007) [Refereed Article]
Gallery and floodplain forests in monsoonal northern Australia are mostly sclerophyllous and dominated by five closely related species of Melaleuca (Myrtaceae) amongst which niche differentiation is unclear. We present a floristic and environmental analysis of ‘the flooded forest’ using data from 340 plots distributed across 450 000 km2 of the Top End of the Northern Territory. Melaleuca argentea was confined to streams and occurred on sandier substrates, whereas M. cajuputi mostly occurred in the near-coastal lowlands on clay soils. The greater basal area of M. cajuputi suggests an association with productive sites. Melaleuca dealbata, M. viridiflora and M. leucadendra occurred on a wide range of soils. More deeply floodprone sites were occupied by M. argentea and M. leucadendra along streams and by M. leucadendra and M. cajuputi on floodplains and in swamps. A general deficiency but occasional abundance of Melaleuca seedlings suggests that regeneration is episodic. Seedlings were more frequent in recently burnt areas and especially where fires had been severe. We propose that Melaleuca forests occur where disturbance by fire and/or floodwater is too great for rain forest to persist, rendering them the wetland analogue to the eucalypts that dominate well-drained portions of the north Australian environment.