Competing demands for water have resulted in many wetlands becoming either more permanently flooded or more permanently dry. It has been stated that such changes may lead to a loss of diversity in wetland communities; yet to date, this has not been tested experimentally. In this study, we experimentally test the hypothesis that increasing the hydrologic stability of wetlands results in reduced abundance, richness and diversity of aquatic biota emerging from wetland sediments. Sediment was collected from 19 wetlands that were divided into five groups (permanently flooded and wetlands that had been dry for 2, 7, 11 and 30 years). Aquatic plant communities germinating from the sediment of wetlands that had been permanently inundated and those that had been dry for 30 years had lower species richness and number of individuals than wetlands with intermediate flooding histories. For microfaunal communities, significantly less individuals but more taxa hatched from wetlands that had been permanently flooded or dry for 2 years than the other wetland groups. These results provide evidence of reduced biotic diversity as hydrological stability is increased under the common management scenarios of making wetlands more permanently wet or dry.
The authors acknowledge the funding and support of Patricia Murray and the Murrumbidgee Catchment Management Authority. This project was funded as part of the Land & Water Australia project NDW32—‘Improving the management of wetlands of the Murrumbidgee River floodplain’.