Impact of water resource development on connectivity and primary productivity across a tropical river floodplain.

Published online
13 Jun 2022
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Molinari, B. & Stewart-Koster, B. & Malthus, T. J. & Bunn, S. E.
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Floodplain wetlands provide an important subsidy for riverine food webs as sites of high algal production. However, this subsidy depends on the degree of landscape connectivity during flood pulses, which provides the opportunity for movement of higher order consumers between rivers and floodplains to access these productive habitats. Changes in floodplain inundation extent and duration, due to variable wet season flows or water resource development (WRD), can impact landscape connectivity and ultimately the magnitude of the food web subsidy. We explored landscape connectivity using graph theory and derived four new metrics to measure how different flow scenarios can affect connectivity and algal production. We considered a historic scenario with the present level of water resource development in our study area, the Mitchell River, and a WRD scenario with the inclusion of three new dams in the catchment. We generated 240 unique daily spatial graphs, using surface water inundation maps across 40-day flood events to compare a dry year (2006), an average flow year (2001) and a wet year (2009) with and without a WRD scenario. Drier years and WRD scenario resulted in floodplain fragmentation, potentially constraining the movement of higher order consumers. Changes in connectivity due to WRD resulted in predicted reductions of up to 26% of algal production on the floodplain that was otherwise connected to the main river channels. Synthesis and applications. The approach developed in this study provides new metrics to identify how changes in floodplain surface water extent due to water resource development and climatic variation may impact ecosystem function such as connectivity that facilitates access of higher order consumers to primary production in floodplain wetlands. With a direct link to river flow alteration, these metrics can inform catchment planning and management to ensure that the conservation of floodplain ecosystem functions is adequately considered in water resource management decisions.

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