Patterned Fens Wetlands
The Great Sandy Strait Ramsar Wetland (GSSRW) has been identified as an investment target under the Federal ‘Caring for our Country’ initiative. Through this initiative it has been possible to form partnerships and collaborate on projects that improve the understanding and subsequent management of the patterned fens wetland ecosystem that existing within the GSSRW.
A major project, in partnership with the University of Queensland will investigate the effect of historical fire regimes, vegetation thickening, road infrastructure and their potential negative effect on biodiversity values. It has been identified that vegetation thickening is more prominent in some of the wetlands and could be an adverse result of fire management practices. In addition the project will investigate the effect of road construction on Fraser Island which is a legacy of historical logging practices and potentially affecting the hydrology of the wetland.
A smaller but important project will support Fraser Island Defender Organisation in the delivery of a three day workshop on Fraser Island. The workshop provides a major achievement as it allows both Queensland and International specialist to discuss the importance and vulnerability of the wetlands and how to best manage them into the future. The workshop will include specialists from the International Mire Conservation Group which will further raise the profile of patterned fens wetlands at the global scale. Raising the national and international profile of these unique wetlands can only be a positive outcome.
The patterned fens wetlands were only identified in 1997 and these projects are providing the first opportunity to investigate the underlying function and processes that will improve current and future management practices.
One of the key findings from the Moss et al (2012) report into the fire history of the patterned fens of the Great Sandy Region was increased shrub representation (i.e. Leptospermum and/or Melaleuca) and both the Moon Point and Wathumba sites associated with lower burning regimes associated with the European settlement period. In addition this report also suggested that the Moon Point Road may have impacted the wetlands across the Moon Point region. Further research is required to investigate whether vegetation thickening is observed at other wetland sites across the EPBC, RAMSAR and WHA listed wetlands of the Great Sandy Region, as well as the impact of roads on these ecosystems and whether both factors are going to impact the conservation status (i.e. suitability for bird habitat and conservation of other key species) of these sites. This project will investigate the vegetation and fire history of the other sites across the Great Sandy Strait region to examine evidence of vegetation thickening at a regional scale and if appropriate fire regimes are needed to be developed to reverse this trend if it is impacting the conservation status of these locations. Furthermore, the impacts of roads and other infrastructure of the wetlands will be examined, which will provide new information about how the features could be better managed.
The mains aims of this project are to:
- Establish vegetation and fire history for the European and immediate pre-European periods of the RAMSAR listed wetlands from pollen and charcoal analysis of sediment cores collected from wetland sites.
- Investigate the factors (e.g. climatological, hydrological and anthropological) influencing fire regimes in the RAMSAR listed wetlands through palynological and sedimentological analysis of sediment cores.
- Determine current and future factors likely to influence the fire regime and its impacts on the wetlands through an understanding of climatological, hydrological and anthropological factors derived from examination of past responses to these factors.
- Develop recommendations for best practice fire management to maintain suitable bird habitat in the RAMSAR listed wetlands into to the future. As well as examining potential threats to key species to WHA and EPBC wetlands through alterations in fires regimes.
- Examine potential impacts of roads and other infrastructure on wetlands across the region, which in turn may result in better planning and management of these features.
Predicting the biomass burning response of Australian ecosystems to climate change is difficult for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it is often difficult to uncouple the effects of changing fire weather and biomass accumulation (Bradstock, 2010). By combining the history of fire regimes on Fraser Island with independently derived records of past climate on Fraser and North Stradbroke Island, we will enable better prediction of future changes in fire regime and vegetation alterations that may impact the conservation status of RAMSAR listed wetlands in the Great Sandy Strait.