are a distinctive wetland type which, though common in some parts
of the world, are rare in Australia.
and best example of an upland peatland in Australia is the Wingecarribee
Swamp, lying in the gently sloping upper catchment valley of the
Wingecarribee River in the southern highlands of New South Wales.
Peat formation began here some 14 700 years ago and averaged around
24 centimetres each 100 years, but this rate of accumulation has
slowed considerably. The peatbeds of the swamp are between 3 and
6 metres deep and hold within them a record of past climates and
vegetation types, species and changes, providing a major storehouse
of natural history records.
provides the only known habitat for one of the world's largest dragonflies
(Petalura gigantea), which grows up to 20 centimetres in
length. The family to which the genus Petalura belongs, dates
back to the Jurassic period, and there are only nine species worldwide,
with four being endemic to Australia. Of great scientific interest
is the dragonfly's life cycle, with the larvae surviving in the
swamp and peat from six to thirty years, spending the daytime in
their mud burrows and emerging at night to feed on the surface of
also supports a large and diverse range of plant species, including
sedgelands, rushlands, reedbeds,
aquatic herbfields, mossbeds and tussock grasslands, which in turn
provide a range of habitats for many native birds, animals, reptiles
all peatlands, Wingecarribee Swamp plays a major role in the control
of water flow to the downstream river system, and in the filtering
of nutrients and pollutants.
this valuable resource is under threat, as peat mining for horticultural
purposes continues in the Wingecarribee Swamp. In other countries
where peat bogs are widespread, peat has been mined for generations
as a source of fuel. In Australia, where these bogs are rare, any
peat mining can threaten the ecological character of the wetland.
Peatlands are also particularly vulnerable to fire, which has increased
in frequency since European settlement. Burning and trampling by
stock has in some cases led to the total destruction of vegetation
and drying up of the peat, followed by considerable erosion of the
other peatlands in New South Wales which include small peat deposits
in the Monaro Region, at Barrington Tops and in the New England
area. The Australian Alps also contain a significant range of fens,
bogs, and peatlands. Relatively undisturbed areas of upland peatland
occur at Rennex Gap, near Jindabyne, and Tomneys Plain near Tumbarumba.
Tomneys Plain, which sits in a large valley meandering through relatively
undisturbed forest, consists of well developed Sphagnum hummocks
with underlying bog peats about 3 metres in depth. Also significant
are the Mount Buffalo Peatlands, which encompass Bunyip Bog and
generally found on plains in high valleys where topography results
in slower drainage. Substantial peat deposits take thousands of
years to form, and the organic material does not break down completely.
Peatlands therefore have high research value as their sediments
act as repositories of valuable information about ecosystem history
and local environmental changes. Subalpine peatbogs, such as these,
prove to be particularly informative recorders of vegetational change.
They are located between montane
and alpine zones, whose boundaries and component flora may have
altered significantly over time.
peatlands occur on all continents and are estimated to cover 500
million hectares of land surface, they include very distinct and
complex ecosystems. Because peat has been discovered to be of great
use to humans (for both fuel and horticultural purposes), the ecological
character of peatlands faces a threat not shared by all wetlands.
We are, however, learning that peatlands are of immense value to
us in other ways; historical, scientific and ecological.
Bilney, Australian Peatlands, Wetlands Australia,
no. 6, July 1997, pp. 6-7.