Wetland research in the Australian wet-dry tropics

Department of the Environment, 1998

Internal Report 296
Spiers A & Finlayson M
Supervising Scientist Division

About the report

Rivers, billabongs, seasonally flowing streams and floodplains are wetlands. So are mangrove forests, coastal salt flats and man-made dams or sewage ponds. With such a broad definition the wet-dry tropics are literally awash with wetlands! These wetlands are highly productive and support plants and animals, big and small, numerous and not so numerous.

Wetlands are also important to people. Australia's Indigenous Aboriginal people have strong cultural ties with wetlands. People hunt and gather food on the wetlands, and many wetland plants and animals are depicted in Aboriginal art. Tourists from Australia and elsewhere value these wetlands. Pastoralists graze cattle on the floodplains during the dry season. Wetlands also act as a buffer zone in the case of tidal surges and flooding.

However, these wetlands face a number of increasingly serious threats. These include: invasion by exotic plant species; damage from feral animals; drainage, vegetation clearance and development; saline intrusion and rising sea levels; inappropriate or altered fire regimes; inappropriate pastoral practices; potential impacts from mining; decreased water quality; and interruption of natural flow regimes.

We have a particular interest in wetland research, and in making research results available to managers in a form that will assist them in their management planning. In the wet-dry tropics there are large information gaps, where the information base needed for effective wetland management is not available. We conduct research to fill these gaps, using internationally recognised procedures. The program is divided into three broad areas:

  • Understanding the ecology of wetlands
  • Identification and assessment of threats to wetlands
  • Provision of advice on the wise use, protection and restoration of wetlands

These goals and research activities overlap and reflect the complex, interactive nature of wetland management. We are keen to develop partnerships and demonstrate that research can play a greater direct role in ensuring protection and effective management of wetlands. These partnerships involve other research and land/water management agencies and, importantly, local wetland owners, users and managers.