Swamp sclerophyll forest on coastal floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions - endangered ecological listing

NSW Scientific Committee - final determination

The Scientific Committee, established by the Threatened Species Conservation Act, has made a Final Determination to list Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions, as an ENDANGERED ECOLOGICAL COMMUNITY in Part 3 of Schedule 1 of the Act, and as a consequence to omit reference to Sydney Coastal Estuary Swamp Forest in the Sydney Basin bioregion from 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. Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions is the name given to the ecological community associated with humic clay loams and sandy loams, on waterlogged or periodically inundated alluvial flats and drainage lines associated with coastal floodplains. Floodplains are level landform patterns on which there may be active erosion and aggradation by channelled and overbank stream flow with an average recurrence interval of 100 years or less (adapted from Speight 1990). Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains generally occurs below 20 m (though sometimes up to 50 m) elevation, often on small floodplains or where the larger floodplains adjoin lithic substrates or coastal sand plains in the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions. The structure of the community is typically open forest, although partial clearing may have reduced the canopy to scattered trees. In some areas the tree stratum is low and dense, so that the community takes on the structure of scrub. The community also includes some areas of fernland and tall reedland or sedgeland, where trees are very sparse or absent. Typically these forests, scrubs, fernlands, reedlands and sedgelands form mosaics with other floodplain forest communities and treeless wetlands, and often they fringe treeless floodplain lagoons or wetlands with semi-permanent standing water (e.g. Pressey 1989a).

The composition of Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains is primarily determined by the frequency and duration of waterlogging and the texture, salinity nutrient and moisture content of the soil. Composition also varies with latitude. The community is characterised by the following assemblage of species:

Acacia irrorataAcacia longifolia
Acmena smithiiAdiantum aethiopicum
Allocasuarina littoralisBanksia oblongifolia
Banksia spinulosaBaumea articulata
Baumea junceaBlechnum camfieldii
Blechnum indicumBreynia oblongifolia
Callistemon salignusCalochlaena dubia
Carex appressaCasuarina glauca
Centella asiaticaDianella caerulea
Dodonaea triquetraElaeocarpus reticulatus
Entolasia marginataEntolasia stricta
Eucalyptus botryoidesEucalyptus longifolia
Eucalyptus resinifera subsp. hemilampraEucalyptus robusta
Ficus coronataGahnia clarkei
Gahnia sieberianaGlochidion ferdinandi
Glycine clandestinaGonocarpus tetragynus
Hydrocotyle peduncularisHypolepis muelleri
Imperata cylindrica var. majorIsachne globosa
Leptospermum polygalifolium subsp. polygalifoliumLivistona australis
Lomandra longifoliaLophostemon suaveolens
Melaeuca ericifoliaMelaleuca linariifolia
Melaleuca quinquenerviaMelaleuca sieberi
Melaleuca styphelioidesMorinda jasminoides
Omalanthus populifoliusOplismenus aemulus
Oplismenus imbecillisParsonsia straminea
Phragmites australisPolyscias sambucifolia
Pratia purpurascensPteridium esculentum
Stephania japonica var. discolorThemeda australis
Villarsia exaltataViola banksii
Viola hederacea

 

2. The total species list of the community is considerably larger than that given above, with many species present at only 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 fire, grazing, flooding and land clearing) history. The number and relative abundance of species will change with time since fire, flooding or significant rainfall, and may also change in response to changes in grazing regimes. 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 of vascular plant species, 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.

3. Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions is known from parts of the Local Government Areas of Tweed, Byron, Lismore, Ballina, Richmond Valley, Clarence Valley, Coffs Harbour, Bellingen, Nambucca, Kempsey, Hastings, Greater Taree, Great Lakes and Port Stephens, Lake Macquarie, Wyong, Gosford, Hornsby, Pittwater, Warringah, Manly, Liverpool, Rockdale, Botany Bay, Randwick, Sutherland, Wollongong, Shellharbour, Kiama and Shoalhaven but may occur elsewhere in these bioregions. Bioregions are defined in Thackway and Creswell (1995). Major examples once occurred on the floodplains of the Tweed, Richmond, Clarence, Macleay, Hastings and Manning Rivers, although smaller floodplains would have also supported considerable areas of this community.

4. Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions has an open to dense tree layer of eucalypts and paperbarks, which may exceed 25 m in height, but can be considerably shorter in regrowth stands or under conditions of lower site quality. For example, stands dominated by Melaleuca ericifolia typically do not exceed 8 m in height. The most widespread and abundant dominant trees include Eucalyptus robusta (swamp mahogany), Melaleuca quinquenervia (paperbark) and, south from Sydney, Eucalyptus botryoides (bangalay) and Eucalyptus longifolia (woollybut). Other trees may be scattered throughout at low abundance or may be locally common at few sites, including Callistemon salignus (sweet willow bottlebrush), Casuarina glauca (swamp oak) and Eucalyptus resinifera subsp. hemilampra (red mahogany), Livistona australis (cabbage palm) and Lophostemon suaveolens (swamp turpentine). A layer of small trees may be present, including Acacia irrorata (green wattle), Acmena smithii (lilly pilly), Elaeocarpus reticulatus (blueberry ash), Glochidion ferdinandi (cheese tree), Melaleuca linariifolia and M. styphelioides (paperbarks). Shrubs include Acacia longifolia (Sydney golden wattle), Dodonaea triquetra (a hopbush), Ficus coronata (sandpaper fig), Leptospermum polygalifolium subsp. polygalifolium (lemon-scented tea tree) and Melaleuca spp. (paperbarks). Occasional vines include Parsonsia straminea (common silkpod), Morinda jasminoides and Stephania japonica var. discolor (snake vine). The groundcover is composed of abundant sedges, ferns, forbs, and grasses including Gahnia clarkei, Pteridium esculentum (bracken), Hypolepis muelleri (batswing fern), Calochlaena dubia (false bracken), Dianella caerulea (blue flax lily), Viola hederacea, Lomandra longifolia (spiny-headed mat-rush) and Entolasia marginata (bordered panic) and Imperata cylindrica var. major (blady grass). The endangered swamp orchids Phaius australis and P. tankervillei are found in this community. On sites downslope of lithic substrates or with soils of clay-loam texture, species such as Allocasuarina littoralis (black she-oak), Banksia oblongifolia, B. spinulosa (var. collina or var. spinulosa) (hairpin banksia), Ptilothrix deusta and Themeda australis (kangaroo grass), may also be present in the understorey. The composition and structure of the understorey is influenced by grazing and fire history, changes to hydrology and soil salinity and other disturbance, and may have a substantial component of exotic grasses, vines and forbs.

5. Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions provides habitat for a broad range of animals, including many that are dependent on trees for food, nesting or roosting (Law et al. 2000). The blossoms of Eucalyptus robusta and Melaleuca quinquenervia are also an important food source for the Grey-headed Flying Fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) and Common Blossom Bat (Sycoyncteris australis) (Law 1994), as well as the Yellow-bellied Glider (Petaurus australis), Sugar Glider (Petaurus breviceps), Regent Honeyeater (Xanthomyza phrygia) and Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor). Other animals found in this community include the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Australasian Bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus), Large-footed myotis (Myotis adversus), Litoria olongburensis and Wallum Froglet (Crinia tinnula).

6. Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions forms part of a complex of forested and treeless wetland communities found throughout the coastal floodplains of NSW. A recent analysis of available quadrat data from these habitats identified a distinct grouping of vegetation samples attributable to this community (Keith and Scott 2005). The combination of features that distinguish Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains from other endangered ecological communities on the coastal floodplains include: its relatively dense tree canopy dominated by Eucalyptus robusta, Melaleuca quinquenervia or E. botryoides, the relatively infrequent occurrence of other eucalypts, Casuarina glauca or Lophostemon suaveolens; the occasional presence of rainforest elements as scattered trees or understorey plants; and the prominence of large sedges and ferns in the groundcover. It generally occupies small alluvial flats and peripheral parts of floodplains where they adjoin lithic substrates or coastal sandplains. The soils are usually waterlogged, stained black or dark grey with humus, and show little influence of saline ground water.

7. Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains includes and replaces Sydney Coastal Estuary Swamp Forest in the Sydney Basin bioregion. It may adjoin or intergrade with several other endangered ecological communities, which collectively cover all remaining native vegetation on the coastal floodplains of New South Wales. These include Lowland Rainforest on Floodplain in the NSW North Coast bioregion, River-Flat Eucalypt Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions (including the formerly listed Sydney Coastal River-Flat Forest in the Sydney Basin bioregion), Subtropical Floodplain Forest, Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions and Freshwater Wetlands on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions. For example, as soils become less waterlogged, Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions may adjoin or intergrade with River-Flat Eucalypt Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions. As soil salinity increases Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains may intergrade with, and be replaced by, Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions. The boundaries between these communities are dynamic and may shift in response to changes in hydrological regimes, fire regimes or land management practices (e.g. Johnston et al. 2003, Stevenson 2003). The Determinations for these communities collectively encompass the full range of intermediate assemblages in transitional habitats.

8. A number of vegetation surveys and mapping studies have been conducted across the range of Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions. This community includes the Eucalyptus robusta (Swamp Mahogany) community identified on coastal alluvium by Douglas and Anderson (2002) and the Coastal Alluvium Swamp Forest complex defined by Anderson and Asquith (2002). In the Comprehensive Regional Assessment of the north-eastern NSW (NPWS 1999), those areas on floodplains mapped as 'Forest Ecosystem 112, Paperbark', and those areas on floodplains mapped as 'Forest Ecosystem 142, Swamp Mahogany' are included within this community. On the Tweed lowlands, this community includes 'Eucalyptus robusta mid-high to very tall closed forest' (F7), 'Archontophoenix cunninghamiana-Melaleuca quinquenervia very tall feather palm swamp forest' (F9), those parts of Melaleuca quinquenervia tall to very tall open to closed forest' (F8) on alluvial soils and parts of 'Floodplain Wetland Complex' (FL) dominated by Eucalyptus robusta or Melaleuca quinquenervia (Pressey and Griffith 1992). In the lower Hunter district, this community includes 'Swamp Mahogany-Paperbark Swamp Forest' (map unit 37), Riparian Melaleuca Swamp Woodland (map unit 42) and Melaleuca Scrub (map unit 42a) of NPWS (2000). In the Sydney-Gosford region, this community includes those parts of 'Freshwater Swamp complex' (map unit 27a) dominated by Eucalyptus robusta or E. botryoides (Benson 1986, Benson and Howell 1994) and parts of the 'Freshwater wetlands - on the floodplains' of Benson and Howell (1990) and Benson et al. (1996). In the Illawarra, this community includes 'Alluvial swamp mahogany forest' (map unit 35) of NPWS (2002). On the south coast, this community includes 'Northern Coastal Lowlands Swamp Forest' (forest ecosystem 175) of Thomas et al. (2000) and 'Coastal Sand Swamp Forest' (map unit 45) of Tindall et al. (2004). Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions is included within the 'Coastal Floodplain Wetlands' and 'Coastal Swamp Forest' vegetation classes of Keith (2002, 2004). There may be additional or unmapped occurrences of Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains within and beyond these surveyed areas.

9. The extent of the Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions prior to European settlement has not been mapped across its entire range. However, one estimate estimate based on a compilation of regional vegetation maps suggests that Coastal Floodplain Wetlands, which include Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Floodplains, currently cover 800-1400 km2, representing less than 30% of the original extent of this broadly defined vegetation class (Keith 2004). Compared to this combined estimate, the remaining area of Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains is likely to be considerably smaller and is likely to represent much less than 30% of its original range. For example, there were less than 350 ha of native vegetation attributable to this community on the Tweed lowlands in 1985 (Pressey and Griffith 1992), less than 2500 ha on the Clarence floodplain in 1982 (Pressey 1989a), less than 700 ha on the Macleay floodplain in 1983 (Pressey 1989b), up to 7000 ha in the lower Hunter - central coast district during the 1990s (NPWS 2000), and less than 1000 ha in the Sydney - South Coast region in the mid 1990s (Tindall et al. 2004), including less than 40 ha on the Illawarra plain in 2001 (NPWS 2002) and about 450 ha on the South Coast in the 1990s (Thomas et al. 2000).

10. Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions has been extensively cleared and modified. Large areas that formerly supported this community are occupied by exotic pastures grazed by cattle, market gardens, other cropping enterprises (e.g. sorghum, corn, poplars, etc.) and, on the far north coast, canefields. On the Tweed lowlands, Pressey and Griffith (1992) estimated that less than 3% of the original Floodplain Wetlands and Floodplain Forest remained in 1985. Similar estimates are likely to apply to Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains in other parts of the NSW North Coast bioregion (Goodrick 1970, Pressey 1989a, 1989b). In the lower Hunter - central coast district, about 30 % of the original area of Swamp mahogany - paperbark forest was estimated to remain in the 1990s (NPWS 2000).

11. Land clearing continues to threaten Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions. A small minority of the remaining area occurs on public land (e.g. Pressey and Griffith 1992, NPWS 2000), with most occurring on productive agricultural land or in close proximity to rural centres. The remaining stands are severely fragmented by past clearing and further threatened by continuing fragmentation and degradation, flood mitigation and drainage works, landfilling and earthworks associated with urban and industrial development, pollution from urban and agricultural runoff, weed invasion, overgrazing, trampling and other soil disturbance by domestic livestock and feral animals including pigs, activation of 'acid sulfate soils', removal of dead wood and rubbish dumping (e.g. Pressey 1989a, b; Pressey and Griffith 1992, Boulton and Brock 1999, Johnston et al. 2003). Anthropogenic climate change may also threaten Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains if future flooding regimes are affected (IPCC 2001, Hughes 2003). Localised areas, particularly those within urbanised regions, may also be exposed to frequent burning which reduces the diversity of woody plant species. Clearing of native vegetation; Alteration to the natural flow regimes of rivers, streams, floodplains and wetlands; Invasion of native plant communities by exotic perennial grasses; Predation, habitat destruction, competition and disease transmission by feral pigs; Anthropogenic climate change; High frequency fire and Removal of dead wood and dead trees are listed as Key Threatening Processes under the Threatened Species Act (1995).

12. Large areas of habitat formerly occupied by Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains have been directly drained by construction of artificial channels (e.g. Pressey 1989a, Boulton and Brock 1999). While much of the early drainage works were associated with agricultural development, more recently they are associated with urban expansion. Additional areas that have not been directly drained may have been altered hydrologically by changed patterns of flooding and drainage following flood mitigation works, particularly the construction of drains, levees and floodgates (Pressey and Griffith 1992). On the north coast of NSW, expansion of Melaleuca quinquenervia into open floodplain swamps has been attributed to artificial drainage and shortening of the hydroperiod (Johnston et al. 2003, Stevenson 2003). These changes appear to be closely associated with enhanced acidity, altered ionic ratios, increased dissolved organic carbon and sulfide oxidation in the soil profile (Johnston et al. 2003).

13. Relatively few examples of Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains remain unaffected by weeds. The causes of weed invasion include physical disturbance to the vegetation structure of the community, dumping of landfill rubbish and garden refuse, polluted runoff from urban and agricultural areas, construction of roads and other utilities, and grazing by domestic livestock. The principal weed species affecting Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains include Andropogon virginicus (whiskey grass), Anredera cordifolia (Madeira vine), Ageratina adenophora (crofton weed), Baccharis halimifolia (groundsel bush), Cinnamomum camphora (camphor laurel), Lantana camara (lantana), Ligustrum sinense (small-leaved privet), Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle) and Ludwigia peruviana (Keith and Scott 2005).

14. Small areas of Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions are contained within existing conservation reserves, including Bungawalbin, Tuckean and Moonee Beach Nature Reserves, and Hat Head, Crowdy Bay, Wallingat, Myall Lakes and Garigal National Parks. These occurrences are unevenly distributed throughout the range and unlikely to represent the full diversity of the community. In addition, wetlands within protected areas are exposed to hydrological changes that were, and continue to be initiated outside their boundaries. Some areas of Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest are protected by State Environmental Planning Policy 14, although this has not always precluded impacts on wetlands from the development of major infrastructure.

15. Given the dynamic hydrological relationship between Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains, Coastal Saltmarsh and other endangered ecological communities on coastal floodplains, future management of water and tidal flows may result in the expansion of some communities at the expense of others. Proposals for the restoration of natural hydrological regimes and for the rehabilitation of acid sulfate soils may also result in changes to the distribution and composition of floodplain communities. Co-ordinated planning and management approaches across whole catchments will be required to address and resolve priorities between different management objectives.

16. In view of the above the Scientific Committee is of the opinion that Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions is likely to become 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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Stevenson, M (2003) Remote sensing and historical investigation of environmental change and Melaleuca encroachment in Tuckean Swamp, north-eastern NSW. Unpublished report. School of Environmental Science and Management, Southern Cross University, Lismore.

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Thomas V, Gellie N, Harrison T (2000) 'Forest ecosystem classification and mapping for the southern Comprehensive Regional Assessment.' (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Queanbeyan.)

 

 

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