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Typology and ecohydrology of groundwater dependent vegetation associated with perennial and intermittent streams

An ecological research program commenced in June 2015 to address critical research priorities concerning ecohydrological responses to coal seam gas extraction and coal mining (CSGCM). The research priorities were developed by the Federal Department of Environment, Office of Water Science (OWS) (under their Ecosystems and water research theme). The project involves an integrated program of research that addresses key elements identified in the OWS Ecology Research priorities. Researchers from ECU’s Centre for Ecosystem Management will be working on one of these elements of this project, investigating the ecohydrology of groundwater dependent terrestrial vegetation.

Although it is known that plant species may access shallow groundwater on a permanent, seasonal or episodic basis, there is little information on the role of groundwater in supporting vegetation across hydrological gradients and in different biophysical settings. Recent research on long-term change in vegetation composition of plants that use groundwater (phreatophytic) identified the dynamics between functional classes of plant species and hydrological gradients defined by accessibility to groundwater. The characteristics of vegetation response are defined by the hydrological state of the habitat and whether it is altered by artificial drawdown and reduction in recharge (Ridolfi et al. 2007, Froend and Sommer 2010). However, a general typology of vegetation and groundwater interactions and responses to groundwater drawdown, does not exist. Consequently, attempts to assess potential ecological impacts of groundwater drawdown as a result of coal seam gas (CSG) and coal mining developments in a variety of biophysical settings, have been hampered by a lack of accepted conceptual models of groundwater dependent vegetation ecology.

The key research questions to address in developing a typology of interactions are:

  1. What are the classes of interaction between vegetation and groundwater and how do they vary spatially and temporally within catchments?
  2. Are there functionally similar plants that share groundwater requirements (hydrotypes) and is their distribution and response (ground use and productivity) to groundwater availability predictable?

This research component aims to understand the spatial and temporal variability in the importance of groundwater as a plant water source in the catchments of perennial and intermittent streams. The work will be conducted in two field locations that are subject to current and future coal mining development, Bremer River in south east Queensland and Maules Creek in northern New South Wales.

Funding Agency

Office of Water Science (Commonwealth Department of the Environment.

Project Duration

18 months


Researchers

Professor Ray Froend
The University of Western Australia, Dr Neil Pettit

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