Faculty of Science and Technology

About the project

Gunbower Wetland Murray RiverThe Murray (Australia) and Yangtze (China) River Basins, two of the World's most significant river basins, have been intensively developed for the provision of food and water resources. The Yangtze River System supports one-tenth of the world's population supported by an economy dependent on irrigation, hydropower and tourism, while the economy of the Murray River Basin, valued as high as $14 billion per annum, is supported by the River Murray for irrigation, hydropower and agricultural industries.

The impacts associated with the Murray River Basin following the arrival of Europeans have resulted in the loss of habitat of keystone freshwater and terrestrial species. Most of these impacts were from the forest clearance for agriculture and subsequent development of irrigation through river regulations. While in the Yangtze River Basin, the major impact is associated with the transformation of the agrarian-based economy to an industrial-based economy in recent decades influencing the loss of key aquatic and terrestrial habitats. As a result of these habitat modifications, the natural functioning of wetland ecosystems in both river basins has been substantially threatened. Further climate change has become the additional threat to the sustainability of wetland ecosystems, and the mankind in general in both river basins.

The increasing evidence of changes in river flows and regime shifts in riverine floodplain ecosystems in recent decades have been questioned, whether there has been a reduction of ecological resilience and subsequent loss of ecosystem services due to degraded water quality, high sedimentation rates and limited supply of fish to the daily diet of local people. Changes in ecosystem function can be associated with multiple pressures including the impacts associated with humans and climate change. The response of these functions to various stressors is often non-linear in nature and show complex ecosystem processes. The nature of such change through time can be extracted from sedimentary archives in floodplain wetlands, and can reveal altered biodiversity and ecosystem function. This information is critical to assess the level to which accelerated resource development has, or will, result in diminished ecosystem services in the riverine and lacustrine systems. Knowledge generated in the two systems will be highly useful for developing strategies to mitigate the ongoing pressures associated with intensive food production and assist decision-makers in ensuring their sustainability.

 Until recently, scientists from Australia and China have had very limited opportunity for interactions on ecological resilience of large river systems and wetland habitats of two countries through exchange of research ideas and to unravel the limited understanding of the ecological and hydrological changes of riverine and lacustrine systems in Australia and China. There have been a few occasions in the past that Chinese and Australian scientists would discuss the significance of knowledge exchange. For example, the LIMCAS Meeting, Nanjing (2007) and the China Water Forum Meeting, Lanzhou (2011) were important platforms to discuss the possible collaborative efforts on study of wetlands. The research between Australian and Chinese experts in wetland ecosystem function and services will foster dialogue between the two countries and help develop well targeted research projects in future. The Australia-China Floodplain Wetland Research Network Partnership is aiming to develop a common language between Australia and China, publish an integrated understanding of floodplain wetland change and identify research priorities, including a future collaborative research agenda.