In these drying times it can be difficult to see that wetland sites, like Winton Wetlands, provide vital, productive environments.
Cradling biological diversity, the wetlands provide the perfect setting for countless species of plants and animals to survive and thrive. Drying wetlands are a natural phenomenon. In fact, in those wetlands that do regularly dry out, it is an essential process. Australian wetlands have evolved to exploit the boom and bust of our seasons.
Drying also ensures the wetlands spring back into life at the next filling event by:
- supporting large numbers of water birds
- allowing the nutrients that have built up in the wet phase to be processed and reduced
- guaranteeing the mudflat plants to sprout and become established on the floor of the wetlands, binding the soil
- providing habitat for many animals and insects, including water bugs (invertebrates) who lay dormant eggs in preparation for the next wet.
But it is what happens below the surface that goes unnoticed.
“Winton Wetlands currently has water held in the Mokoan Ponds along the Dam Wall, which are supporting many water plants, water birds, fish and yabbies all year ’round” said Lance Lloyd, Aquatic Ecologist at Winton Wetlands.
Under the water, the native fish are growing with the warm conditions and the waterbirds are feeding on the yabbies, invertebrates and water plants. Small mammals and reptiles are flourishing under the grass cover – feeding and growing, out of the hot sun, and the insects are burrowing and aerating the soil, creating a balanced and diverse ecosystem.
“Wetlands are biological supermarkets, providing great volumes of food for many animal species. These animals use places like Winton Wetlands in their life-cycles.”
“Plant leaves and stems breakdown as water subsides, creating small particles of organic material called detritus. This enriched material feeds waterbugs, shellfish and small fish that are food for larger predatory fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals”
During this dry period, Winton Wetlands are:
- unwavering in their efforts to reduce European Carp populations
- revegetating the wetlands to replace the woodlands, grasslands and reed beds to provide shade and habitat
- undertaking works on the wetlands that we can only do in the dry, like managing drainage and maintaining tracks and
- preparing the site for when the next wet period arrives
Wetlands also provide a blend of shallow water, high levels of nutrients and primary productivity – ideal for the development of organisms that form the base of the food web and carbon cycle.
“Wetlands store carbon within their plant communities and soil instead of releasing it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Thus, wetlands help to moderate global climate conditions.”
Functioning as natural sponges, wetlands trap and slowly release surface water, rain and flood waters. Trees, root mats and other wetland vegetation also slow the speed of flood waters and distribute them more slowly over the wetlands. This combined water storage and braking action reduces erosion and lowers flood heights, albeit hard to imagine significant and prolonged rainfall in current conditions.
Image: Lesley Ricker