The effect of flooding and flood timing on leaf litter breakdown rates and nutrient dynamics in a river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) forest


  • Helen S. Glazebrook,

    1. School of Environmental and Information Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Albury; and
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    • †Present address: Department of Land and Water Conservation, PO Box 205, Deniliquin, NSW 2710, Australia.

  • Alistar I. Robertson

    1. The Johnstone Centre, School of Science and Technology, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales 2650; Australia (Email:
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    • *Corresponding author.


Comparisons of litter standing-stocks in low-lying and higher areas of the floodplain and the effects of controlled flooding events on leaf litter decomposition and leaf litter nutrients were examined during autumn and winter in a southeastern Australian river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) floodplain forest. The mean mass of total litter and some litter components was significantly greater in autumn than in winter but there were few differences in litter mass between low-lying flood runners and higher sites (1.5 m) on the floodplain, regardless of season. Leaf decomposition was more rapid in flooded areas than in non-flooded areas and was significantly faster in autumn than in winter. In flooded leaves, concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen dropped rapidly during the first 3 days of each experiment, increased to near original after 7–10 weeks and then decreased again. After 112 days of decomposition the C:N:P ratios of leaf litter increased, but this effect was most marked for flooded leaves. Simple models of leaf litter dynamics indicated that leaf litter standing-stocks in low-lying flood runners would be reduced by flooding, particularly during autumn. In contrast, models predicted a net gain in standing-stocks of leaf litter to be higher on the floodplain, particularly in autumn. Alteration to the seasonal timing of floods by river regulation has probably decreased litter standing-stocks and nutrients available in low-lying areas of the floodplain to support the production of macrophytes and biofilms during winter and spring floods.