Integration of palaeo-and-modern food webs reveal slow changes in a river floodplain wetland ecosystem

Sci Rep. 2020 Jul 31;10(1):12955. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-69829-8.


Large rivers, including the Murray River system in southeast Australia, are disturbed by many activities. The arrival of European settlers to Australia by the mid-1800s transformed many floodplain wetlands of the lower Murray River system. River impoundment and flow regulation in the late 1800s and, from the 1930s, resulted in species invasion, and elevated nutrient concentrations causing widespread eutrophication. An integrated palaeoecology, and palaeo-and-modern food web approach, incorporating mixing models, was undertaken to reveal changes in a regulated wetland (i.e. Kings Billabong). The lack of preserved sediment suggests the wetland was naturally intermittent before 1890. After this time, when used as a water retention basin, the wetland experienced net sediment accumulation. Subfossil cladocerans, and δ13C of Daphnia, chironomid, and bulk sediment, all reflected an early productive, likely clear water state and shifts in trophic state following river regulation in the 1930s. Food web mixing models, based on δ13C and δ15N in subfossil and modern Daphnia, fish, and submerged and emergent macrophytes, also indicated a shift in the trophic relationships between fish and Daphnia. By the 1970s, a new state was established but a further significant alteration of nitrogen and carbon sources, and trophic interactions, continued through to the early 2000s. A possible switch from Daphnia as a prey of Australian Smelt could have modified the food web of the wetland by c. 2006. The timing of this change corresponded to the expansion of emergent macrophytes possibly due to landscape level disruptions. The evidence of these changes suggests a need for a broader understanding of the evolution of wetlands for the management of floodplains in the region.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Australia
  • Daphnia / physiology*
  • Food Chain*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Rivers*
  • Wetlands*