Managed flooding can augment the benefits of natural flooding for native wetland vegetation.
Managed flooding is increasingly being used to maintain and restore the ecological values of floodplain wetlands. However, evidence for its effectiveness is sometimes inconsistent and water available for environmental purposes often limited. We experimentally inundated a floodplain wetland (or "billabong") in late spring by pumping water from its adjacent creek, aiming to promote the native wetland flora and suppress terrestrial exotics. Vegetation was surveyed before (spring) and after (late summer) the managed flood in the experimental billabong and in three control billabongs. Floodplain water levels were continuously monitored. Wet conditions caused two of the control billabongs to also flood, but to a lesser extent than the experimental billabong. We therefore assessed vegetation changes relative to flooding duration. With increasing flooding duration, the cover of wetland vegetation (amphibious and aquatic species) increased and the cover of terrestrial and exotic vegetation decreased, with these effects largest in the deliberately flooded billabong. Flooding durations greater than 20 days generally resulted in increased cover of wetland plants and restricted the growth of terrestrial plants. Reinstatement of more appropriate flooding regimes can thus promote native wetland plants, while suppressing terrestrial exotic species. Our study also provides evidence for the use of modest water allocations to augment the benefits of natural flooding in the maintenance and restoration of native wetland plant communities.