Thesis: Australia’s shifting coastal vegetation: Implications for changes in carbon sequestration potential
Coastal wetlands are dynamic ecosystems and globally are amongst the most productive, yet they are declining. Major decline in their health, geographical distribution and abundance has largely been attributed to anthropogenic influences, particularly land use change; notably from residential development, aquaculture, or habitat alterations. However, the ultimate anthropogenic pressure on these habitats is climate change, yet with limited global studies into the historic distribution of mangrove and salt marsh habitats it is difficult to assess the rate of decline that has already occurred and predict future change.
My research will concomitantly investigate spatio-temporal changes in the distribution and abundance of coastal vegetation (mangrove and saltmarsh) and also in carbon sequestration capacity at selected study sites within Australia. Various methods will be utilised to gauge vegetation at time points from Australia’s settlement to present day, including the use of remote sensing to interpret satellite imagery, a geographic information system (GIS) for aerial photography interpretation and a more novel approach of combining qualitative texts to create a representation of the sites at historical time-points.
Why my research is important
Coastal vegetation globally and in Australia is an ecosystem that is under intense pressure from loss and degradation. Historically, vegetation loss has tended to be due to land use change or anthropogenic modifications such as dams and weirs that alter flow regimes, which in turn affect the salinity and turbidity of waters within the catchment, affecting the distribution, abundance and health of vegetation. The frequency and intensity patterns in precipitation, ocean salinity, wind patterns and extreme weather events are being altered as a result of climate change and will therefore affect the distribution and versatility of coastal vegetation. Establishing spatio-temporal data for the distribution and abundance of vegetation is pivotal in understanding the effects of climate change. Significantly, spatio-temporal vegetation data coupled with carbon sequestration rates will provide accurate historical records of carbon storage by coastal vegetation, show current sequestration rates and predict the potential carbon storage capacity of these ecosystems. The spatio-temporal approach of my study will enable national patterns to be observed whilst also allowing for localised analysis to further explore micro changes in catchments.