NSW Scientific Committee - final determination
The Scientific Committee has found that:
1. Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions is the name given to the ecological community associated with grey-black clay-loams and sandy loams, where the groundwater is saline or sub-saline, on waterlogged or periodically inundated flats, drainage lines, lake margins and estuarine fringes 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 Oak Floodplain Forest generally occurs below 20 m (rarely above 10 m) elevation in the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions. The structure of the community may vary from open forests to low woodlands, scrubs or reedlands with scattered trees. Typically these forests, woodlands, scrubs and reedlands 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 Oak Floodplain Forest is primarily determined by the frequency and duration of waterlogging and the level of salinity in the groundwater. Composition also varies with latitude. The community is characterised by the following assemblage of species:
- Acmena smithii
- Alphitonia excelsa
- Alternanthera denticulata
- Baumea juncea
- Blechnum indicum
- Callistemon salignus
- Carex appressa
- Casuarina glauca
- Centella asiatica
- Commelina cyanea
- Crinum pedunculatum
- Cupaniopsis anacardioides
- Cynodon dactylon
- Dianella caerulea
- Entolasia marginata
- Enydra fluctuans
- Flagellaria indica
- Gahnia clarkei
- Geitonoplesium cymosum
- Glochidion ferdinandi
- Glochidion sumatranum
- Hypolepis muelleri
- Imperata cylindrica var. major
- Isolepis inundata
- Juncus kraussii subsp. australiensis
- Juncus planifolius
- Juncus usitatus
- Lobelia alata
- Lomandra longifolia
- Lophostemon suaveolens
- Maundia triglochinoides
- Melaleuca alternifolia
- Melaleuca ericifolia
- Melaleuca quinquenervia
- Melaleuca styphelioides
- Myoporum acuminatum
- Oplismenus imbecillis
- Parsonsia straminea
- Persicaria decipiens
- Persicaria strigosa
- Phragmites australis
- Selliera radicans
- Smilax australis
- Stephania japonica var. discolor
- Viola banksii
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 Oak Floodplain Forest 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, Port Stephens, Maitland, Newcastle, Cessnock, Lake Macquarie, Wyong, Gosford, Pittwater, Warringah, Hawkesbury, Baulkham Hills, Hornsby, Lane Cove, Blacktown, Auburn, Parramatta, Canada Bay, Rockdale, Kogarah, Sutherland, Penrith, Fairfield, Liverpool, Bankstown, Wollondilly, Camden, Campbelltown, Wollongong, Shellharbour, Kiama, Shoalhaven, Eurobodalla and Bega Valley but may occur elsewhere in these bioregions. Bioregions are defined in Thackway and Creswell (1995). Major examples once occurred on the floodplains of the Clarence, Macleay, Hastings, Manning, Hunter, Hawkesbury, Shoalhaven and Moruya Rivers.
4. Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions has a dense to sparse tree layer in which Casuarina glauca (swamp oak) is the dominant species northwards from Bermagui. Other trees including Acmena smithii (lilly pilly), Glochidion spp. (cheese trees) and Melaleuca spp. (paperbarks) may be present as subordinate species, and are found most frequently in stands of the community northwards from Gosford. Tree diversity decreases with latitude, and Melaleuca ericifolia is the only abundant tree in this community south of Bermagui (Keith and Bedward 1999). The understorey is characterised by frequent occurrences of vines, Parsonsia straminea (common silkpod), Geitonoplesium cymosum (scrambling lily) and Stephania japonica var. discolor (snake vine), a sparse cover of shrubs, and a continuous groundcover of forbs, sedges, grasses and leaf litter. The composition of the ground stratum varies depending on levels of salinity in the groundwater. Under less saline conditions prominent ground layer plants include forbs such Centella asiatica (pennywort), Commelina cyanea, Persicaria decipiens (slender knotweed) and Viola banksii; graminoids such as Carex appressa (tussock sedge), Gahnia clarkei (a saw-sedge), Lomandra longifolia (spiny-headed mat-rush), Oplismenus imbecillis; and the fern Hypolepis muelleri (batswing fern). On the fringes of coastal estuaries, where soils are more saline, the ground layer may include the threatened grass species, Alexfloydia repens, as well as Baumea juncea, Juncus kraussii subsp. australiensis (sea rush), Phragmites australis (common reed), Selliera radicans and other saltmarsh species. The composition and structure of the understorey is also influenced by grazing history, changes to hydrology and soil salinity and other disturbance, and may have a substantial component of exotic grasses, vines and forbs.
5. Unlike most other coastal floodplain communities, Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions are not a significant habitat for waterbirds (Goodrick 1970). However, they do sometimes provide food resources for the Glossy Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami lathami), and Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus) (Marchant and Higgins 1990 ). The fauna of Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest also includes the Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) and several species of frogs in the families Myobatrachidae (southern frogs) and Hylidae (tree frogs).
6. Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions forms part of a complex of forested wetland 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 Oak Floodplain Forest from other endangered ecological communities on the coastal floodplains include: its dominance by a tree canopy of either Casuarina glauca or, more rarely, Melaleuca ericifolia with or without subordinate tree species; the relatively low abundance of Eucalyptus species; and the prominent groundcover of forbs and graminoids. It generally occupies low-lying parts of floodplains, alluvial flats, drainage lines, lake margins and fringes of estuaries; habitats where flooding is periodic and soils show some influence of saline ground water. This latter habitat feature sets it apart from other floodplain communities.
7. Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest 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, Subtropical Floodplain Forest of 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), Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions (including the formerly listed Sydney Coastal Estuary Swamp Forest in the Sydney Basin bioregion) and Freshwater Wetlands on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions. For example, in less saline habitats, Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest may adjoin or intergrade with several other endangered ecological communities including River-Flat Eucalypt Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions and Subtropical Floodplain Forest of the NSW North Coast bioregion. The most saline forms of Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions may adjoin or intergrade with Coastal Saltmarsh 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). 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 Oak Floodplain Forest of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions. This community includes 'Sheoak Swamps' in the general coastal wetlands classification of Goodrick (1970). In the Tweed valley lowlands, this community includes 'Casuarina glauca tall to very tall open to closed forest' (F10) of Pressey and Griffith (1992) and parts of the 'Floodplain Wetland Complex' (FL) that include Casuarina glauca with Melaleuca spp. (Pressey and Griffith 1992). In the Comprehensive Regional Assessment of the north-eastern NSW (NPWS 1999), areas mapped as 'Forest Ecosystem 143, Swamp Oak', fall within this community. In the lower Hunter valley, 'Swamp Oak - Rushland Forest' (map unit 40) and 'Swamp Oak Sedge Forest' (map unit 41) of NPWS (2000) fall within this community. On the Cumberland Plain, 'Riparian Woodland' (map unit 5) of Tozer (2003) and parts of 'Alluvial Woodland' (map unit 11) dominated by Casuarina glauca (Tozer 2003) are included within this community, while those parts of Benson's (1992) 'River Flat Forest' (map unit 9f) dominated by C. glauca also fall within this community, as do parts of the 'River-flat forests' of Benson and Howell (1990) and Benson et al. (1996) that are dominated by C. glauca. On the Illawarra Plain, 'Coastal Swamp Oak Forest' (map unit 36) of NPWS (2002) occurs within this community. In the Comprehensive Regional Assessment of southern New South Wales (Thomas et al. 2000), this community includes 'Coastal Wet Heath Swamp Forest' (forest ecosystem 24), 'South Coast Swamp Forest' complex (forest ecosystem 25) and those parts of 'Ecotonal Coastal Swamp Forest' (forest ecosystem 27) dominated by Casuarina glauca. In the Sydney - South Coast region, this community includes parts of 'Floodplain Swamp Forest' (map unit 105) dominated by Casuarina glauca, 'Estuarine Fringe Forest' (map unit 106) and 'Estuarine Creek Flat Scrub' (map unit 107) of Tindall et al. (2004). In the Eden region, this community includes 'Estuarine Wetland Scrub' (map unit 63) of Keith and Bedward (1999) and parts of 'Floodplain Wetlands' (map unit 60) that include Casuarina glauca or Melaleuca ericifolia (Keith and Bedward 1999). Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest South East Corner is included within the 'Coastal Floodplain Wetlands' vegetation class of Keith (2002, 2004). There may be additional or unmapped occurrences of Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest within and beyond these surveyed areas.
9. The extent of the Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest 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 based on a compilation of regional vegetation maps suggests that Coastal Floodplain Wetlands, which include Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest, 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 Oak Floodplain Forest is likely to be considerably smaller and is likely to represent much less than 30% of its original range. Major occurrences include: less than 350 ha on the Tweed lowlands in 1985 (Pressey and Griffith 1992); less than 650 ha on the lower Clarence floodplain in 1982 (Pressey 1989a); less than 400 ha on the lower Macleay floodplain in 1983 (Pressey 1989b); less than 3200 ha in the lower Hunter - central Hunter region in the 1990s (NPWS 2000); less than 5200 ha in the Sydney - South Coast region in the mid 1990s (Tindall et al. 2004), including up to 4700 ha on the Cumberland Plain in 1998 (Tozer 2003) and less than 250 ha on the Illawarra Plain in 2001 (NPWS 2002); and less than 1000 ha in the Eden region in 1990 (Keith and Bedward 1999).
10. Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest 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 Oak Floodplain Forests in other parts of the NSW North Coast bioregion (Pressey 1989a, 1989b, NPWS 1999). In the lower Hunter - central coast region, less than 30-40% was estimated to have remained during the 1990s (NPWS 2000), while approximately 13% remained on the Cumberland Plain in 1998 (Tozer 2003). In the Sydney - South Coast region, less than 20% was estimated to remain in the mid 1990s (Tindall et al. 2004), in the Eden region about 30% was estimated to remain during the 1990s (Keith and Bedward 1999).
11. Land clearing continues to threaten Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest 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 1989a, b; Pressey and Griffith 1992), 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' and rubbish dumping (e.g. Pressey 1989a, b; Pressey and Griffith 1992, Boulton and Brock 1999, Johnson et al. 2003). Anthropogenic climate change may also threaten Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest if sea levels rise as predicted or 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 and High frequency fire are listed as Key Threatening Processes under the Threatened Species Conservation Act (1995).
12. Large areas of habitat formerly occupied by Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest have been directly drained by construction of artificial channels (e.g. Pressey 1989a, Boulton and Brock 1999). By the early 1900s, drainage unions or trusts were formed on the major floodplains to enable adjacent landholders to arrange for co-ordinated drainage systems, which were designed and constructed by the NSW Department of Public Works. 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 and Casuarina glauca into open floodplain swamps has been attributed to artificial drainage and shortening of the hydroperiod (Johnston et al. 2003, Stevenson 2003). There have also been anecdotal reports of recruitment by Casuarina glauca in pastures during extended dry periods, though not necessarily by other components of the community. 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). Alteration of tidal flows may have lead to decreased soil salinity and localised expansion of Casuarina glauca into areas that previously supported Coastal Saltmarsh or mangroves (Stevenson 2003).
13. Very few examples of Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest 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 Oak Floodplain Forest include Araujia sericiflora (moth plant), Asparagus asparagoides (bridal creeper), Baccharis halimifolia (groundsel bush), Cyperus eragrostis (umbrella sedge), Cinnamomum camphora (camphor laurel), Conyza spp. (fleabanes), Hydrocotyle bonariensis (American pennywort), Ipomoea cairica, I. purpurea and I. indica (morning glories), Lantana camara, Paspalum dilatatum (paspalum), Pennisetum clandestinum (kikuyu) Rubus fruticosis agg. (blackberries), Solanum pseudocapsicum (Madeira winter cherry), S. nigrum (black-berry nightshade), Tradescantia fluminensis (wandering jew) and Verbena bonariensis (purpletop), (Tozer 2003, Keith and Scott 2005). In general, remaining examples of Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest from the most saline environments are in better condition, while those from less saline habitats are generally more degraded.
14. Small areas of Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions are contained within existing conservation reserves, including Stotts Island, Ukerebagh, Tuckean, Pambalong, Wamberal, Towra Point and Cullendulla Creek Nature Reserves and Bongil Bongil, Myall Lakes and Conjola 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 Oak Floodplain Forest, 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 Oak Floodplain Forest 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
Proposed Gazettal date: 17/12/04
Exhibition period: 17/12/04 - 28/01/05
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