Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Environmental Management


School of Natural Sciences


Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science

First Advisor

Professor Ray Froend

Second Advisor

Dr Kathryn McMahon

Third Advisor

Professor Pierre Horwitz


Mangrove stands are uncommon within semi-arid climates and rare within inland systems. It is uncertain whether the same environmental variables influence mangroves growing in a semi-arid climate as the trees growing in tropical and sub-tropical areas. Field studies conducted on the ecophysiological responses of the mangrove species Avicennia marina are few; however hydrological regimes are considered the key factor influencing mangrove stand zonation, structure and individual tree growth. The Gascoyne region of Western Australia provides a unique opportunity to investigate whether mangroves growing within an inland semi-arid environment display similar growth patterns and ecophysiological responses to their coastal counterparts.

This study investigates the distribution, structure and condition of the mangrove A. marina growing at Lake MacLeod and coastal and riverine stands near Carnarvon, Western Australia. Hydrological categories based on freshwater inputs, tidal influences, distance from permanent water sources and sediment elevations were used to investigate the environmental conditions present within specific hydrological regimes. Mangrove tree responses to environmental conditions were evaluated by assessing above-ground biomass, shoot production, water-use efficiency, photosynthesis, specific leaf area, weight and total chloride content. The overarching objective was to determine the environmental factors influencing the presence, morphology and physiological state of A. marina growing at inland, coastal and riverine sites in a semi-arid climate.

Soil moisture content, organic matter content, average and seasonal range in sediment EC, and distance from the permanent water sources were found to influence vegetation characteristics at Lake MacLeod. Soil moisture content was highest close to permanent ponds and at lower sediment elevations. Sediment salinity was highest close to pond edges, although the majority of the lake bed is hypersaline due to high evapoconcentration. The environmental gradients are complex at Lake MacLeod as a result of the unique hydrological regime. Seawater supply to permanent ponds is constant via an underground karst system which enters the lake through vents and seepages present along the western edge of the lake bed. It is evident that the constant supply of marine water is the key environmental factor supporting mangrove presence and structure. Average mangrove tree height, basal area, density and canopy cover are greatest near the permanent ponds. Mangrove density and height was also high, though patchy away from the ponds where saline seepages occurred. A high density of stunted mangroves was found on lake shorelines receiving periodic saline flooding via wind surges. Samphire cover was also greatest close to the permanent ponds, demonstrating that both mangrove and Samphire presence and importance is influenced by consistency of water availability.

Sediment conditions were significantly different between inland and coastal sites, with sediment salinity and moisture content higher at Lake MacLeod. The ecophysiological responses displayed by A. marina in different categories of hydrological regimes revealed that consistency of water supply, irrespective of salinity, is an important driver of long and short-term productivity, water-use efficiency, leaf size and weight, and tree height. In general, short and long-term production was inversely proportional to distance from permanent water sources, although it was highly variable due to seepages away from the permanent ponds. Mangrove trees growing at the landward edge of coastal sites were the most water-use efficient (~ -28 δ¹³C), relative to the inland Lake MacLeod trees (~ - 26 δ¹³C), and was directly linked to water supply not quality. Photosystem health in trees growing at both the riverine stands (yield 0.66 ± 0.01) and inland stands found at greater distances from ponds (yield 0.065 ± 0.02), were significantly lower than all other trees in this study. Relative maximum electron transfer rate was also significantly lower at these sites, suggesting that the riverine trees were affected by other stresses such as herbicides. Mangrove trees near permanent water sources, or that received tidal flushing, displayed larger leaves and lower specific leaf weight, indicating that A. marina has the ability to not only tolerate hypersaline conditions but also acclimate to harsh and variable conditions via changes to ecophysiological responses and morphology.

This research has developed a better understanding of how A. marina persists at Lake MacLeod and whether these trees are under greater stress as opposed to the mangroves growing at coastal stands. Sediment conditions between coastal and inland sites were significantly different, but it was distance from permanent water sources that influenced mangrove stand features. Therefore, the key environmental variable influencing distribution, structure and ecophysiological state of A. marina growing in a semi-arid climate is predominantly water availability.


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