Integrated Study of Coastal Wetland Characteristics and Geomorphic Processes in a South East Queensland Catchment

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Dale, Pat
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Chappell, John
Powell, Bernard
Greenway, Margaret
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change due to natural and human factors. The study area, located within the Native Dog Creek sub-catchment of the Logan River - which drains into Moreton Bay, south east Queensland - holds a detailed history of environmental change spanning most of the Holocene epoch. This history is preserved in the estuarine sedimentary record and is a valuable indicator of natural environmental change. More recently, human-induced changes within the study area have been superimposed on the natural process of environmental change. In order to develop a conceptual bio-geomorphic model of the coastal wetlands of Native Dog Creek, this thesis examined - on an integrated catchment basis - the evolution and connectivity of four coastal wetland community types (Melaleuca, Casuarina, saltmarsh and mangroves). The research consisted of four discrete studies within the study area: a geomorphic investigation that provided a framework for understanding how the wetlands evolved during the Holocene epoch; an acid sulfate soil (ASS) study that surveyed the distribution and concentration of sulfides; a palynological study that examined the natural directions of ecosystem change; and an investigation of the impact of specific human activities on these ecosystems. Detailed stratigraphic modelling found that the Logan River system (and its Native Dog Creek sub-catchment) has evolved from an infilling estuary since the peak of the Holocene transgression 6500 years before present. Recognition of the major controls that influenced geomorphic coastal development during the Holocene, provided important insights into the distribution and genesis of estuarine pyritic sediments which strongly influence the soils within the study area. In general, the estuarine central basin and fluvial delta sediments posed the greatest risk to the environment from acidification if disturbed. The major focus of the ASS study was to survey the distribution of ASS and to identify other areas most vulnerable to acidification. A predictive approach that combined chemical and stratigraphic analysis was used. Results showed that these areas are intrinsically related to their environment of deposition. The study found, for example, that the alternation of excessively wet and dry conditions - combined with high organic carbon levels and variations in microtopography - provided ideal conditions for the re-formation of pyrite in the stream channel within the Melaleuca wetlands. The palaeo-environmental study reconstructed the evolution of Holocene coastal wetland vegetation during the marine transgression and subsequent shoreline progradation. Pollen records from the four representative wetland communities (previously mentioned) were examined. The results found the mid-late Holocene vegetation history was controlled by the development of geomorphic features that have affected freshwater input, drainage and salinity. In response to the progradation of the shoreline after sea level stabilised, changes in fossil pollen from mangroves and saltmarsh taxa during the early-mid Holocene, to freshwater taxa during the late Holocene, are estimated to have taken 800 years. Thus, pollen analysis when used in combination with stratigraphic modelling, provided an important point of reference for rates of natural ecological change in response to evolutionary changes to the physical environment. The wetlands within the study area have suffered varying degrees of disturbance since European settlement in the 1820s. The most significant changes occurred during early European settlement, when vast areas of coastal lowlands were cleared for timber, sheep and cattle grazing and for agricultural purposes. A second period of change occurred from 1989 to 1995, when the Melaleuca community suffered dieback in response to hydrological modifications to Native Dog Creek for the development of a golf course. Results indicate that human-induced changes over the past 170 years have occurred at a rate far beyond the ability of the natural ecosystem to adapt or move to a more ecologically sustainable state, at least in the short-term. Hence the current environment is experiencing degradation through both decline in health and loss of indigenous species. The development of a conceptual bio-geomorphic model was based on the integration of results from all four studies, in an effort to provide a holistic understanding of the coastal wetland environment and of the impact of human-induced changes upon that environment. If these vulnerable ecosystems are to be maintained, successful and sustainable coastal management strategies must rely on a sound scientific understanding of the response of a coastal ecosystem to both human and environmental changes.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Australian School of Environmental Studies
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Coastal wetland (Queensland
catchment geomorphology
geomorphic processes
coastal wetlands
bio-geomorphic model
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