Moree wetlands to be put under spotlight as University of New England's Lindsey Frost researches ecosystem

Lindsey Frost works at Old Dromana during a recent field trip to the site.

Lindsey Frost works at Old Dromana during a recent field trip to the site.

Environmental enthusiast Lindsey Frost is preparing to uncover new secrets to the wetlands in Moree after the University of New England student was awarded a grant to assist her research.

“The wetlands are a really important part of the Moree landscape, and there has been a lot of effort put into managing them,” Ms Frost said. They are “managed using the best available science and any extra information we can gain about how these systems work can only add to that knowledge and improve future management.”

Ms Frost was named one of three recipients of the In Situ Research Excellence Award. She received $1,000 to follow through with her research at Old Dromana, a former grazing property that is part of the Gwydir Wetlands State Conservation Area.

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“The wetlands are a natural part of the landscape around Moree,” Ms Frost said. “They cover a lot less area than they once did, but they still provide significant benefits.

“When floods spread out through the wetlands they bring a lot of nutrients with them and the wetlands help hang onto those - its part of what makes the floodplains around Moree so fertile. And because they retain water over large areas they also help to improve the soil moisture profile over the long term.”

The area is well known for spectacular bird watching when the wetlands are flooded, including really impressive nesting events where some waterbirds nest in colonies of 10,000 or more.

Lindsey Frost

The Cairns native has progressively moved south through Brisbane and Stanthorpe to follow her passion for the wetlands.

“I finally crossed the QLD/NSW border when I moved to Armidale three years ago, so I could make a career change into science,” Ms Frost said.

On the back of a Bachelor of Environmental Science degree at the University of New England in 2015, Ms Frost landed a job as a field ecologist at a consultancy in Armidale.

“As part of the job, I got to work on the Long Term Intervention Monitoring project run by the Federal Government, to monitor the outcomes of environmental water use in parts of the Murray Darling Basin.

“The Big Leather Watercourse [on the lower Gwydir] is part of that monitoring program and I was able to spend some time out there, getting to know the wetlands.”

Ms Frost now juggles part-time Masters studies with full-time work as a technical officer.

She said she intended to shift her focus at Moree to the carrying capacity of the wetland.

“That is, how many animals can it support?”

While plenty of research has been targeted at large, iconic species for conservation purposes, less is known about the wetlands and how it supports wildlife.

“We know that waterbirds need enough space and a suitable habitat for breeding, and that they will need enough food for that to be successful, but how can we best use water allocations to stimulate that food production?” Ms Frost said.

“To answer that question, I’m going to look at the food web at different times during a flood event to see how much food energy can be produced across the wetland at different times, and how it is distributed.”

The information will be used to model food production under different flood conditions.

“If we can understand how much energy can be produced in the wetlands with certain amounts of water, that will improve our ability to predict likely outcomes from environmental watering events,” Ms Frost said.

She pointed out Moree had quietly made a name for itself in the world of bird watchers, as the wetlands offered a unique spectacle.

“The area is well known for spectacular bird watching when the wetlands are flooded, including really impressive nesting events where some waterbirds nest in colonies of 10,000 or more. When these kinds of events happen both National Parks and private property owners play host to bird watchers who come to Moree from all over Australia and even overseas.”

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