River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis Denh.) organic matter as a carbon source in the lower Darling River, Australia
The Darling River, in New South Wales, Australia, is a large semi-arid system with a highly variable flow regime, characterised by unpredictable events of flooding and drought. In large lowland rivers like the Darling, lateral (river-floodplain) interactions can greatly influence both physical and biological components of the system. The floodplain and riparian zone of the Darling River is dominated by River Red Gum (RRG), Eucalyptus camaldulensis. The large amount of organic matter they produce accumulates on the floodplain and on benches within the channel, and is subject to alternate periods of flooding and drying as a result of highly variable flows. This paper examines the effect of alternate periods of flooding and drying on the processing of E. camaldulensis organic matter. Results of the 6-month in situ field study, together with results from laboratory experiments comparing dissolved organic carbon (DOC) release from various RRG litter types, suggest that RRG leaves provide the most bio-available source of carbon to the system, while bark may be more important as a habitat for invertebrates and other fauna. Laboratory experiments exploring the effect of drying and re-flooding on litter breakdown and release of DOC suggested that the majority of DOC was released from RRG leaves in the first 24 h of inundation. Also, upon drying and re-flooding of the leaves, a smaller but significant release of DOC occurred. However, an alternative wet/dry cycle did not affect weight loss of the leaf litter. Results of the field and lab experiments suggest that RRG leaves represent an important source of carbon to the Darling River, with inputs being influenced by the highly variable flow regime.