The geomorphology of wetlands in the upper Mooi River catchment, KwaZulu-Natal.
Wetlands are now recognized as being an integral component of the physical landscape. Geomorphology has recently been recognised by wetland scientists as being of fundamental importance in wetland genesis, maintenance and evolution, thereby providing the context for informed, effective wetland management and conservation. At present there exists a paucity of geomorphological wetland research in South Africa. A hydro-geomorphic approach was adopted to attain an understanding of wetland genesis, distribution and functioning of a range of different palustrine wetland systems in the upper Mooi-River Catchment of KwaZulu-Natal. The physical, chemical and landscape-morphological characteristics of wetland soils were investigated to interpret the processes operating within those wetland systems. Both field and laboratory work suggest that wetland creation and maintenance in the upper Mooi River catchment may be attributed primarily to climatic factors, landscape position, landform and geological characteristics. These factors were found to cumulatively control the hydrological characteristics of wetlands, which impart an important influence on internal wetland conditions. While soil properties do not appear to be a primary factor in the establishment of these wetlands, they are nevertheless found to be important in the regulation of the hydrological dynamics of wetland systems. The close interdependence between wetlands and the surrounding landscape and the hydrological cycle is evident in the wetland systems investigated. Geomorphic processes within wetlands such as overbank flooding, overland flow, sedimentation, piping, leaching, soil swelling, shrinkage and cracking and channel incision and dynamics were found to be important variables in determining the nature and internal characteristics of wetland systems. In several of the systems investigated, all of the above mentioned processes were operative, while in other systems, a number of these processes were either insignificant or absent. Canonical Variate Analysis indicated that while commonalities exist between the palustrine wetland systems investigated in this study, significant differences were found between different groups. This supports the argument that a subclassification of the palustrine system into five different palustrine wetland types is warranted. While the scope of the present research did not allow for an extensive investigation of suitable methods of rehabilitation, the study suggests that an understanding of geomorphic process and wetland dynamics will be beneficial to wetland management and conservation as a whole.