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The Lower Murray Floodplain seedbank: status and response to flooding

The decline of floodplain vegetation along the Lower River Murray, South Australia, has evoked recommendations for ‘environmental flows’ to restore and maintain the health of the ecosystem. To assist managers to maximize benefits from environmental flows, this thesis considers the significance of water for germination and recruitment in key floodplain plant species. Three dominant species are considered, including two trees, river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and black box (E. largiflorens), and an understorey shrub, tangled lignum (Muehlenbeckia florulenta).

The soil seed bank was dominated by terrestrial annual native plants. Among 1400 seedlings, a single river red gum was found, and no black box or lignum, suggesting that these species do not contribute to the persistent soil seed bank and rely instead on aerial seed banks (serotiny). Sampling of the soil seed bank was continued to determine when seed fall might coincide with appropriate soil moisture conditions. Responses of the soil seed bank to varied water regimes were compared to determine requirements for seedling survival. The results indicated that species richness, rapidity of response and survival time were all promoted by sustained soil moisture.

Stands of eucalypts in various states of health (from very stressed to very healthy) were monitored to identify seasonal patterns in bud crops, flowering, fresh leaves and volumes of seed released from the aerial seed bank. Distinct seasonal phenological patterns were apparent, and suggested alternating flowering among individual trees (biennial for red gum, bi-annual for black box), producing an annual peak in summer. Peak seed rain occurred in summer (December–March) in healthy trees for both red gum and black box, with light seed rain continuing throughout the year. Seed fall from stressed trees was much reduced. Stressed trees responded after a second watering event, with much more varied and extended annual seed fall patterns.
Lignum showed a spring peak in flowering and seed production. There was a prolific response of flowering and seeding to rainfall, but few seedlings survived. Vigorous vegetative growth occurred in existing plants in response to rainfall and watering but no new cloned plants were found during the study. An investigation of chromosomes as a potential tool to appraise the balance between sexual and asexual reproduction in lignum proved inconclusive, although a previous report of octoploidy in lignum was confirmed.

Seeds from all three species and lignum cuttings were tested for their responses to varied watering regimes, based on combinations of simulated rain and flood conditions. The optimal soil moisture for continued growth and survival in all seeds and cuttings was 10-25%, with moisture values <10% causing wilting and death. The results also suggested that red gum and black box seeds which germinate in water under flooded conditions need to be stranded onto moist soil at the water’s edge within 10 days, for the seedling to continue to grow. It was also concluded that germination on rain moistened soil is a key supplementary mechanism for recruitment, particularly between irregular flood events.

For greatest benefit, the timing of environmental flows should complement any seasonal rainfall and irregular flooding that may occur. Extension of suitable soil moisture conditions (10-25%) for as long as possible after less than 5 mm rainfall, or after over-bank flows, would increase chances for survival of seedlings. December is the most likely month for maximal benefit from watering in the Lower Murray Valley, for germination and recruitment, based on regional rainfall and flooding patterns.

Publications and Resources


Land & Water Australia. 2009. The Lower Murray Floodplain seedbank: status and response to flooding. [Online] (Updated July 3rd, 2009)
Available at: [Accessed Wednesday 23rd of October 2013 01:00:45 AM ].

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    id: 2931 / created: 11 March, 2009 / last updated: 03 July, 2009