Floodplain wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin and their freshwater biota
In inland Australia, remarkable wetlands occur in low-lying and often extensive areas of floodplain that are subject to inundation by freshwater from rivers and creeks. These floodplain wetlands provide critical aquatic and riparian habitat for flood-reliant and flood-tolerant flora and fauna, collectively termed biota, in otherwise semiarid or arid landscapes. This diverse range of plants, animals and microscopic organisms, including endemic and threatened species, occupy habitats and ecological niches that are created and maintained by the flows and flood regimes of the floodplain wetland systems in which they survive and flourish. These ecosystems are naturally variable and are characterised by complex interrelationships between their flood patterns, landforms and soils, and ecological communities. The flow regimes of inland Australian rivers are driven by weather and climate variability, and so inland floodplain wetlands experience changes in the frequency, magnitude and duration of flooding in response to cycles and extreme events of rainfall and runoff in their catchments. Like the impacts of land use and water resource development in our river catchments today, future climate change related to human-induced global warming is likely to compound the effects of natural climate and hydrological variability, potentially altering the balance of biophysical and ecological processes in many of Australia's rivers and iconic floodplain wetlands.