Myrtaceous shrub species respond to long-term decreasing groundwater levels on the Gnangara Groundwater Mound, northern Swan Coastal Plain
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Analysis of four vegetation transects that were established on the Bassendean Dune System, northern Swan Coastal Plain classified 42 native plant species into four ‘habitat’ groups based on their preferred soil moisture regimes (Havel 1968). Using adult abundance and distribution data from three of these transects and an additional transect established in 1976, we investigated the various ecological responses of myrtaceous shrub species representing the four habitat groups to long-term (20-30 yr) decreasing groundwater and soil moisture levels. Myrtaceous shrubs were chosen for analysis because of their widespread occurrence and diversity on the Swan Coastal Plain, and because Myrtaceae is the only plant family to be represented in all four of Havel’s habitat categories. Myrtaceous species ‘tolerant of excessive wetness’ (Astartea fascicularis, Hypocalymma angustifolium, Pericalymma ellipticum, Regelia ciliata) are all shallow rooted (rooting depth < 1m), occur in winter-wet depressions, and displayed the greatest reduction in population size in response to decreasing groundwater levels. Species cateogorised as displaying ‘maximum development on dry sites’ (Eremaea pauciflora, Melaleuca scabra, Scholtzia involucrata) commonly occurred on the upper and mid-slopes of the transects, are deeper-rooted and varied in their population response to long-term declines in water availability. All three species probably rely to some extent on accessing soil moisture at depth (2-6 m) during summer drought. The scenario was similar for species ‘optimum on moist sites’ (M. seriata) and for species ‘without clear-cut site preferences’ (Calytrix flavescens). In the context of Havel’s four habitat categories, whether a particular habitat preference is ‘wet’ or ‘dry’ refers to availability of soil moisture, although to what soil depth and moisture levels are uncertain. Habitat preferences, based on soil moisture availability, may have no relevance to a species preferred groundwater regime and hence response to decreasing groundwater levels. A species’ groundwater requirements during periods of drought are dependent on their position in the landscape, summer groundwater depth and the species rooting depth.
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