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Keywords:

  • Australia;
  • coarse woody debris;
  • Eucalyptus camaldulensis;
  • floodplains;
  • restoration;
  • river red gum;
  • trees;
  • wood loads

Abstract

We evaluated the status of coarse woody debris (CWD, fallen wood) on floodplains of the southern Murray-Darling basin of southeastern Australia. The floodplains are dominated floristically by the river red gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis. Aerial survey techniques were used to estimate the amounts of woody debris within 200 m of the channels along 2,442 km of 11 rivers of the system, including the Murray and Darling Rivers and the Darling Anabranch. Aerially based indices were converted into wood volumes by using ground-truthing at a selection of sites; there was a strong correlation between index values and measured wood volume densities. For thickly forested sites such as Barmah, Gunbower Island, and the Ovens floodplains, the aerial method was not useful, so ground measurements at randomly positioned sites within the forests were used. Volumes were translated into mass by using conversion factors drawn from the literature. We estimated that total tonnage on approximately 221,000 ha of floodplain forests was 4.175 ± 0.579 × 106 tonne. In the larger forested blocks (>7,000 ha), mean wood densities ranged between approximately 12 tonne/ha on the lower Goulburn up to approximately 24 tonne/ha at Barmah State Forest. The area-weighted mean for the entire area was approximately 19 tonne/ha. A main purpose of the research was to place these figures into an historical perspective to evaluate implications for restoration. A thorough search of historical documentation revealed that there are no extant data upon which to estimate pre-European settlement levels. We used information from an apparently undisturbed “unmanaged” site in the Millewa forests of southern New South Wales as a basis. Wood density there corresponded to a mean figure of 125 tonne/ha wood-mass density. By using this figure we estimate that CWD levels on the southern Murray-Darling basin may be of the order of 15% of pre-European settlement levels. Full restoration of the 221,000 ha surveyed would require 23.5 ± 0.579 × 106 tonne, which is equivalent to about 600,000 mature (1 m diameter at breast height) river red gum trees or the amount of timber derived from clear felling about 115,000 ha of river red gum forest at current stocking levels. We discuss the implications of this massive deficit and possible short- and long-term solutions.