Montane peatlands and swamps of the New England Tableland, NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin, South East Corner, South Eastern Highlands and Australian Alps bioregions - endangered ecological community listing

NSW Scientific Committee - final determination

The Scientific Committee, established by the Threatened Species Conservation Act, has made a Final Determination to list the Montane Peatlands and Swamps of the New England Tableland, NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin, South East Corner, South Eastern Highlands and Australian Alps bioregions as an ENDANGERED ECOLOGICAL COMMUNITY in Part 3 of Schedule 1 of the Act. Listing of endangered ecological communities is provided for by Part 2 of the Act.

The Scientific Committee has found that:

1. Montane Peatlands and Swamps of the New England Tableland, NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin, South East Corner, South Eastern Highlands and Australian Alps bioregions is the name given to the plant community associated with accumulated peaty or organic-mineral sediments on poorly drained flats in the headwaters of streams. It occurs on undulating tablelands and plateaus, above 400-500 m elevation, generally in catchments with basic volcanic or fine-grained sedimentary substrates or, occasionally, granite. Montane Peatlands and Swamps is characterised by the assemblage of species listed in paragraph 2 and comprises a dense, open or sparse layer of shrubs with soft-leaved sedges, grasses and forbs. It is the only type of wetland that may contain more than trace amounts of Sphagnum spp., the hummock peat-forming mosses. Small trees may be present as scattered emergents or absent from the community.

2. Montane Peatlands and Swamps of the New England Tableland, NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin, South East Corner, South Eastern Highlands and Australian Alps bioregions is characterised by following assemblage of species:

Acaena novae-zelandiaeArthropodium milleflorum
Asperula gunniiBaeckea gunniana
Baeckea utilisBaloskion australe
Baloskion stenocoleumBaumea rubiginosa
Blechnum nudumBlechnum penna-marina
Brachyscome gramineaCallistemon pityoides
Carex appressaCarex fascicularis
Carex gaudichaudianaComesperma retusum
Deyeuxia gunnianaDeyeuxia quadriseta
Drosera binataDrosera peltata
Eleocharis acutaEleocharis sphacelata
Empodisma minusEpacris breviflora
Epacris microphyllaEpacris paludosa
Epilobium billardierianumEpilobium gunnianum
Eucalyptus ovataEucalyptus pauciflora
Eucalyptus stellulataGahnia sieberiana
Geranium neglectumGleichenia dicarpa
Gonocarpus micranthusGratiola latifolia
Gratiola peruvianaHakea microcarpa
Hydrocotyle peduncularisHypericum gramineum
Hypericum japonicumHypoxis hygrometrica
Isotoma fluviatilisJuncus falcatus
Juncus planifoliusJuncus sarophorus
Lagenifera stipitataLeptospermum juniperinum
Leptospermum lanigerumLeptospermum myrtifolium
Leptospermum obovatumLeptospermum polygalifolium subsp. polygalifolium
Lepyrodia anarthriaLythrum salicaria
Mitrasacme serpyllifoliaMyriophyllum pedunculatum
Myriophyllum propinquumNeopaxia australasica
Oreomyrrhis ciliataPhragmites australis
Poa costinianaPoa labillardieri
Poa sieberiana var. sieberianaPrasophyllum canaliculatum
Pratia pedunculataPrunella vulgaris
Pteridium esculentumRanunculus lappaceus
Ranunculus pimpinellifoliusScaevola hookeri
Schoenus apogonScirpus polystachyus
Sphagnum cristatumSphagnum novo-zelandicum
Spiranthes sinensis subsp. australisStellaria pungens
Stylidium graminifoliumUtricularia dichotoma
Viola betonicifoliaViola caleyana
Viola hederaceaWahlenbergia ceracea
Xerochrysum palustre

 

3. The total species list of the community is larger than that given above, with many species present only in one or two sites, or in low abundance. The species composition of a site will be influenced by the size of the site, recent rainfall or drought conditions and by its disturbance (including grazing, land clearing and fire) history. The number and relative abundance of species will change with time since fire, and may also change in response to changes in fire frequency or water regime. At any one time, above-ground individuals of some species may be absent, but the species may be represented below ground in the soil seed banks or as dormant structures such as bulbs, corms, rhizomes, rootstocks or lignotubers. The list of species given above is mainly of vascular plant species, however the community also includes micro-organisms, fungi, cryptogamic plants and a diverse fauna, both vertebrate and invertebrate. These components of the community are poorly documented.

4. Montane Peatlands and Swamps of the New England Tableland, NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin, South East Corner, South Eastern Highlands and Australian Alps bioregions typically has an open to very sparse layer of shrubs, 1-5 m tall, including species of Baeckea, Callistemon and Leptospermum. Species of Epacris and Hakea microcarpa are also common shrubs. In some peatlands and swamps, particularly those with a history of disturbance to vegetation, soils or hydrology, the shrub layer comprises dense thickets of Leptospermum species. In other peatlands and swamps with a history of grazing by domestic livestock, the shrub layer may be very sparse or absent. Montane Peatlands typically have a dense groundcover of sedges, grasses and forbs, except where a dense cover of tall shrubs casts deep shade. Soft-leaved species of Carex and Poa typically make up most of the groundcover biomass, while other common sedges include Baloskion spp., Baumea rubiginosa, Empodisma minus, Juncus spp. and Schoenus apogon. Forbs growing amongst the sedges include Drosera spp., Geranium neglectum, Gratiola spp., Mitrasacme serpyllifolia, Ranunculus spp. and Viola spp. Hummocks of Sphagnum moss may occur amongst other components of the ground layer. The continuity of the ground layer may be interrupted by erosion, trampling, partial clearing or earthworks. There may be considerable variation in soils and species composition between and within individual peatlands and swamps. Regionally, a number of species are confined to the northern or southern parts of the community's distribution. Locally, toward the margins of any particular peatland or swamp, the average watertable depth typically declines, the mineral content of surface soils increases and hydrophilic plant species are replaced by species that are less tolerant of waterlogged conditions.

5. Montane Peatlands and Swamps may be distinguished from Upland Wetlands of the Drainage Divide of the New England Tableland bioregion, also listed on Schedule 1 of the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, by several biological and physical characteristics. The latter community has fewer woody plants, a greater component of aquatic herbs, is based on substrates with less peat and higher mineral content, and has shallow temporary to near-permanent standing water, cf. a varying depth of seeping water within Montane Peatlands and Swamps.

6. Montane Peatlands and Swamps of the New England Tableland, NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin, South East Corner, South Eastern Highlands and Australian Alps bioregions provides habitat for a number of endangered plant species including Carex klaphakei, Diuris pedunculata, Eucalyptus approximans, Euphrasia scabra, Gentiana baueriana, G. bredboensis, G. wingecarribiensis , Grevillea acanthifolia subsp. paludosa, Lysimachia vulgaris var. davurica and Prasophyllum uroglossum; and vulnerable plant species including Baloskion longipes, Boronia deanei, Callitris oblonga, Diuris venosa, Eucalyptus aquatica, Leptospermum thompsonii, Prasophyllum fuscum, Pultenaea parrisiae subsp. parrisiae, Ranunculus anemoneus, Tasmannia purpurascens and T. glaucifolia. Some of these species are associated with ecotones of adjoining forests or watercourses. Montane peatlands and swamps provide habitat for a range of threatened fauna, particularly amphibians and, notably the Northern and Southern corroboree frogs (Pseudophryne pengilleyi and P. corroboree) and the Giant Dragonfly (Petalura gigantea).

7. Montane Peatlands and Swamps of the New England Tableland, NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin, South East Corner, South Eastern Highlands and Australian Alps bioregions is currently known from parts of the Local Government Areas of Armidale Dumaresq, Bega Valley, Bellingen, Blue Mountains, Bombala, Cooma-Monaro, Eastern Capital City, Eurobodalla, Gloucester, Greater Argyle, Guyra, Hawkesbury, Lithgow, Oberon, Severn, Shoalhaven, Snowy River, Tenterfield, Tumbarumba, Tumut, Upper Lachlan and Wingecarribee but may occur elsewhere in these bioregions. Bioregions are defined in Thackway and Creswell (1995).

8. A number of vegetation surveys and mapping studies have been conducted across the range of Montane Peatlands and Swamps of the New England Tableland, NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin, South East Corner, South Eastern Highlands and Australian Alps bioregions. In Whinam and Chilcott's (2002) classification of peatland vegetation, this community includes 'Tea-tree Sphagnum Peatlands' (Group 3), 'Shrubby herbaceous Sphagnum peatlands' (Group 4), 'Shrubby-sedgey Sphagnum peatlands' (Group 5), 'Heathy Sphagnum Peatlands' (Group 6), 'Barrington drainage line Sphagnum Swamps' (Group 7), 'Degraded Sphagnum Moss Beds' (Group 8) and 'Alpine Sphagnum peatlands' (Group 9). In the New England bioregion, this community includes 'Heath Swamps on Leucogranite and Granite' (map unit 20) of Benson and Ashby (2000), 'Plateau Wet Herbfield' (map unit 1) and 'Wet Heath' (map unit 5) of Clarke et. al. (2000), and the Sphagnum bogs described by Millington (1954). In the Barrington Tops area, this community includes the swamps described by Mort (1983), 'Sedgeland' (Community 12) of Zoete (2000) and 'Subalpine bogs' of Fraser and Vickery (1939). On the central tablelands, this community includes 'Coxs River swamps' (map unit 20b) and 'Boyd plateau bogs' (map unit 26b) of Keith and Benson (1988) and Benson and Keith (1990); 'Highlands peat swamp' (map unit 25a) and 'Bindook highlands grassland' (map unit 18) of NPWS (2003); and the swamps and bogs described by Black (1976) and Kodela et al. (1996). On the southern tablelands, this community includes peatlands described by Hope and Southern (1981), including Wingecarribee swamp (Kodela et al. 2001); 'Montane Wet Heath/Bog' (map unit 123), 'Western Montane Wet Heath/Herb Grass Woodland' (map unit 124), 'Montane Wet Heath/Herb Grassland' (map unit 125), and 'Montane Wet Sedgeland' (map unit 126) of Thomas et al. (2000); and 'Tableland Bog' (map unit 53) and 'Shrubby Swamp Meadow' (map unit 5557) of Tindall et al. (2004); 'Subalpine Bog' (map unit 59) of Keith and Bedward (1999); and 'Carex gaudichaudiana Alliance', Epacris paludosa - Sphagnum cymbifolium Alliance' and 'Carex gaudichaudiana - Sphagnum cymbifolium Alliance' of Costin (1954). In the Kosciusko-Monaro district, this community also includes the Sphagnum peatlands of Clarke and Martin (1999), the 'Carex gaudichaudiana' and 'Epacris paludosa' alliances of Costin (1954), 'Bog and Fen' (map unit 9) of Wimbush and Costin (1973) and the 'Poa association', 'Poa-Restio ecotone', 'Restio associes', 'Hypolaena associes', 'Richea associes', 'Epacris associes', 'Callistemon consociation' and 'Baeckea consociation' of McLuckie and Petrie (1927). Montane Peatlands and Swamps of the New England Tableland, NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin, South East Corner, South Eastern Highlands and Australian Alps bioregions is included within the 'Montane Bogs and Fens' and 'Alpine Bogs and Fens' vegetation classes of Keith (2002, 2004). There may be additional or unmapped occurrences of Montane Peatlands and Swamps within and beyond these surveyed areas.

9. Montane Peatlands and Swamps of the New England Tableland, NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin, South East Corner, South Eastern Highlands and Australian Alps bioregions are threatened by land clearing; grazing, trampling and soil disturbance caused by feral pigs, goats, deer, horses and domestic livestock; damage to vegetation and soils by off-road vehicles; peat mining; frequent or high-intensity fires; pollution and eutrophication from urban areas, cropping and improved pastures in the catchment; weed invasion; changes to water tables and surface flows caused by drainage works or altered flows in the catchment; erosion and sedimentation; and climate change.

10. Losses of Montane Peatlands and Swamps of the New England Tableland, NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin, South East Corner, South Eastern Highlands and Australian Alps bioregions due to land clearing are difficult to estimate. However, estimates vary from about 20% in the Guyra district (Benson and Ashby 2000) to more than 75% in the far southeast of NSW (Keith and Bedward 1999). Clearing of catchments for pastures or plantations, and earthworks associated with road or track construction may also adversely affect peatlands by causing erosion, sedimentation or changes in hydrology (Whinam and Chilcott 2002). Clearing of native vegetation is listed as a Key Threatening Process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act (1995).

11. Overgrazing may cause changes in species composition by reducing the abundance of the most palatable plants, as well as woody species with poor regenerative capacity (Whinam and Chilcott (2002). Trampling by hooved animals, such as pigs, goats, deer, horses or cattle, causes channelling of water flow, which may lead to erosion or drying in different parts of a peatland (Whinam and Chilcott 2002). Digging and rooting by feral pigs and horses may also cause severe damage to vegetation and soils, even in conservation reserves, such as Koscuiszko and Kanangra-Boyd National Parks, where control measures are carried out (Whinam and Chilcott 2002). Predation, habitat destruction, competition and disease transmission by feral pigs, Competition and habitat degradation by feral goats, and Herbivory and environmental degradation caused by feral deer are listed as a Key Threatening Processes under the Threatened Species Conservation Act (1995).

12. Peat mining, although localised, may have catastrophic impacts on the hydrology and ecological function of Montane Peatlands and Swamps. For example, peat was extracted from Wingecarribee Swamp, the largest peatland on mainland Australia, for 25 years until it underwent a massive structural collapse in 1998 (Arachchi and Lambkin 1999). The collapse left only 20% of the swamp intact, with the remainder affected by drying, fissuring and oxidation of the peat, loss of Sphagnum and herbaceous flora and the expansion of Leptospermum juniperinum and exotic woody species such as Rubus fruticosis agg. and Salix spp. (Kodela et al. 2001). Underground mining of coal may also affect the hydrology of Montane Peatlands and Swamps where subsidence causes fissuring and subsequent drying or erosion (Young 1982), or where mine water is disposed into swamps and alters surface flows or causes erosion or sedimentation. Changes to hydrology may also result from the construction of drainage channels for agricultural land use or earthworks associated with infrastructure, such as roads, pipelines or other constructions. Alteration to the natural flow regimes of rivers, streams, floodplains and wetlands is listed as a Key Threatening Process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act (1995).

13. Some areas of Montane Peatlands and Swamps are exposed to high frequency fire, which alters species composition by favouring fire-tolerant sedges at the expense of woody plants that are slow to regenerate after fire (Keith 1996) and by creating exposed conditions unsuitable for the recovery of Sphagnum (Whinam et al. 1989, 2001). Survival of rhizomatous species, such as Baloskion australe and Empodisma minus, and tussock sedges, such as Carex gaudichaudiana, is important for the maintenance of substrate integrity after fire. Elimination of woody species by frequent burning is likely to be accelerated by grazing. Under dry conditions, fires may consume peat, resulting in the complete death of surface vegetation and seed banks, and exposure of the remaining substrate to further erosion. Changes that follow peat fires may therefore be long-lasting (Keith 1996). High frequency fire is listed as a Key Threatening Process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act (1995).

14. Pollution and eutrophication of peatlands is caused by run off or drift of fertilisers, pesticides, waste water, storm water and other pollutants from adjacent pastures and developed industrial or urban areas. This results in the replacement of native peatland vegetation by exotic weeds at a rate determined by the chemical composition and input rate of the pollutants. Common weed species include Rubus fruticosis agg. (blackberries), Salix spp. (willows), Pinus radiata, Dactylis glomerata (cocksfoot), Cirsium vulgare (spear thistle), Conyza bonariensis (fleabane), Hypochaeris radicata (cats ear), Lotus uliginosus, Ranunculus repens (creeping buttercup), Taraxacum officinale (dandelion), Anthoxanthum odoratum (sweet vernal grass), Holcus lanatus (Yorkshire fog), Paspalum dilatatum, Juncus articulatus. Invasion of native plant communities by exotic perennial grasses is listed as a Key Threatening Process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act (1995).

15. Climate change may threaten the persistence of Montane Peatlands and Swamps through the alteration of hydrological budgets (Hughes 2003). Reduced precipitation and increased evaporation rates are likely to cause drying and contraction of peatlands (Whinam et al. 2003). There may also be indirect impacts if climate change results in higher fire frequencies and greater incidence of peat fires. Anthropogenic climate change is listed as a Key Threatening Process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act (1995).

16. Montane Peatlands and Swamps of the New England Tableland, NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin, South East Corner, South Eastern Highlands and Australian Alps bioregions is currently known from conservation reserves including Werrikimbee, Barrington, Kanangra-Boyd, Monga, Wadbilliga, South East Forests and Kosciusko National Parks. However, these examples are generally small, unrepresentative of the range of variation in the community, affected by past disturbances and continue to be threatened by some of the processes described above (Whinam and Chilcott 2002, Whinam et al. 2003). Analogous communities occur in Victoria, where the community is listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, and in the Australian Capital Territory.

17. In view of the above, the Scientific Committee is of the opinion that Montane Peatlands and Swamps of the of the New England Tableland, NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin, South East Corner, South Eastern Highlands and Australian Alps bioregions is facing a high risk of becoming extinct in nature in New South Wales unless the circumstances and factors threatening its survival or evolutionary development cease to operate.

 

Associate Professor Paul Adam

Chairperson

Scientific Committee

Proposed Gazettal date: 17/12/04

Exhibition period: 17/12/04 - 28/01/05

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