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Wetland classification and types

Wetlands are dynamic systems that influence and are influenced by a complex range of environmental variables and undergo cycles of wetting and drying over temporal and spatial scales.

There is a lot of variability within and between individual wetlands. No two wetlands are the same and as a result, grouping wetlands into meaningful, discrete types can be challenging. The classification of wetlands may also depend on the region and landscape where the wetland is located.

The classification of wetlands into relevant types or groups that are more like each other than others is necessary and very useful for a variety of reasons, e.g. for management, monitoring and regulation.

Bowling Green Bay, Photo by Lana Heydon

Quick facts

One size
does not fit all when dividing wetlands into types. Wetland types developed for one purpose will not necessarily be the same types as those developed for other purposes. A primary focus on biodiversity might provide types which recognise the importance for biodiversity. These would not be the types a farmer might need for assessing the grazing potential of wetlands.

Classification schemes:

Wetland and aquatic ecosystems classification processes should follow the steps below.

Purpose of classification

There are many reasons for classifying wetlands and other aquatic ecosystems. Before using an existing wetland classification or developing a new one the first step should be to think about why the classification is required, for example, to:

  • develop a synthesis of current understanding and knowledge of components, processes and drivers of each wetland type for managers
  • select and interpret appropriate indicators for monitoring purposes
  • identify regional areas which have similar broad patterns of natural distribution of aquatic biota
  • identify, track and compare changes in extent of different wetland types due to natural or anthropogenic pressures
  • assess representativeness and uniqueness for a range of purposes including conservation value assessment
  • facilitate communication about wetland ecology, values and management with technical and non-technical audiences and stakeholders
  • predict the presence or absence of species based on wetland type
  • form part of a basis of water allocation, regulation and catchment management to maintain wetland support areas and connectivity processes

When looking at the purpose of classification it also needs to be considered what characterisations or attributes would be most useful in describing the nature of a specific wetland and distinguishing them from others.

Scale of data capture and reporting

Attributes (or data features) can be collected at different scales (also referred to as levels) and the outputs can be displayed at different scales. The scale of data capture and resulting outputs needs to be formulated based on the original purpose of the classification. For example, you might want to know which wetland types are under-represented in the reserve system of Queensland. Although the scale of reporting is Queensland the data would need to be collected at a finer scale to ensure that all of the wetland types were included and assessed[1].

This diagram demonstrates just some of the scales used. By Queensland Wetlands Program 2010

Structure and levels used in the Interim Australian National Aquatic Ecosystems Classification Framework

Development and application of attributes

Traditionally classifications have focused on vegetation structure and communities[7], geomorphology[14], and hydro-geomorphology[2][3] to describe wetland types. Combinations of these features are also used to establish typologies[11][5][10][16]. Other methods use a combination of biotic data (e.g.[4][15]) or morphological, hydrological and physico-chemical data (e.g.[8][9][13]).  Some classification schemes include bioregionalisations and incorporate geography and landscape characteristics; but sometimes classifications and bioregionalisations are separated[12][6].

Development of the method

Once the purpose, scale and attributes have been identified it is necessary to develop a method to apply the data to the spatial features and establish the criteria from which different types of wetlands can be derived. Applying all data in every possible combination could result in hundreds or thousands of possible types. The process of limiting the types by only combining certain attributes is determined by the method and ultimately driven by purpose. It is important when applying attributes to spatial data that all possible attributes are applied even if the final typology does not split based on that attribute. This will ensure that other typologies can be developed using the same attributes. A Queensland wetland classification method has been prepared for the development of conceptual models, wetland management profiles and mapping outputs. The Queensland Intertidal and Subtidal Ecosystem Classification Scheme extends the terrestrial and wetlands classification to include these other ecosystems.

Product—Communicating the results

Developing a classification scheme and applying it is only one part of the process. It is important that the outputs from the classification scheme are communicated effectively, both in terms of the method, attributes and derived products.

Wetland on-line education modules

A series of on-line education modules, including Wetland types and classification, has been prepared as a resource for people who want to learn more about wetlands.

Users can download and use the contents of this education module to meet their learning and training needs. This information should be used in conjunction with information found on this website.

This resource outlines the key principles of wetland types and classification and should not be used for statutory purpose.



Additional information

IUCN Global Ecosystem Typology 2.0

A Global Typology for Earths Ecosystems

Pages under this section


  1. ^ Australian Government. Aquatic Ecosystems Toolkit Module 2: Interim Australian National Aquatic Ecosystem (ANAE) Classification Framework Ecosystem (ANAE) Classification Framework. [online] Available at:
  2. ^ Ausseil, AG, Dymond, JR & Shepherd, JD (2007), 'Rapid mapping and prioritisation of wetland sites in theManawatu-Wanganui Region, New Zealand.', Environmental Management. [online], no. 39, pp. 316-325. Available at:
  3. ^ Brinson, MM (1993), Ahydrogeomorphic classification for wetlands, vol. Technical Report WRP-DE-4, ArmyEngineerWaterwaysExperimentStation, Vicksburg,MS.
  4. ^ Evdokimov, NA & Ermokhin, MV (2009), 'The typology of temporary waterbodies and the influence of their parameters on the crustacean species composition of zooplankton', [online], vol. Volume 2, no. Issue 2,, pp. 171-176. Available at:
  5. ^ Green, DL (1997), Wetland management technical manual: wetland classification, Department of Land and Water Conservation, NSW.
  6. ^ Hughes, RM & Omernik, JM (1981), Use and misuse of the terms watershed and stream order., pp. Warmwater-Stream Symposium, American Fisheries Society Warmwater Stream Symposium, Bethesda.
  7. ^ Keith, D (2004), Ocean Shores to Desert Dunes: The native vegetation of New South Wales and the ACT. [online], Department of Environment and Conservation, NSW, Sydney. Available at:
  8. ^ Kolada, EJ, Casazza, ML & Sedinger, JS (2009), 'Ecological factors influencing nest survival of greater sage-grouse in Mono County, California.', Journal of Wildlife Management. [online], vol. 73, no. 8, pp. 1340-1347. Available at:
  9. ^ Lucena-Moya, P, Gómez-Rodríguez, C & Pardo, I (2012), 'Spatio-Temporal Variability in Water Chemistry of Mediterranean Coastal Lagoons and its Management Implications', - Wetlands. [online], pp. 1-13, Springer Netherlands. Available at:
  10. ^ McElarney, YR & Rippey, B (2009), 'A comparison of lake classifications based on aquatic macrophytes and physical and chemical water body descriptors', Hydrobiologia. [online], vol. 625, no. 1, pp. 195-206. Available at:
  11. ^ Pegg, KG, Gillespie, NC & Foresberg, LI (1980), 'Phytophora sp. Associated with mangrove death in Central Coastal Queensland', Australasian Plant Pathology, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 6-7, Springer.
  12. ^ Roper, T, Creese, B, Scanes, P, Stephens, K, Williams, R, Dela-Cruz, J, Coade, G, Coates, B & Fraser, M (2011), Assessing the condition of estuaries and coastal lake ecosystems in NSW, Monitoring, evaluation and reporting program, Technical report series. [online], Office of Environment and Heritage, Sydney. Available at:
  13. ^ Sandsten, H, Beklioglu, M & Ince, Ö (2005), 'Effects of waterfowl, large fish and periphyton on the spring growth of Potamogeton pectinatus L. in Lake Mogan, Turkey', Hydrobiologia. [online], vol. 537, no. 1-3, pp. 239-248. Available at:
  14. ^ Semeniuk, V & Seminiuk, CA (1995), 'A geomorphic approach to global classification for inland wetlands. Vegetatio', Vegetatio. [online], vol. 118, no. 118, pp. 103-124. Available at:
  15. ^ Zenker, A & Baier, B (2009), 'Relevance of abiotic criteria used in German lake typology for macroinvertebrate fauna', Hydrobiologia. [online], vol. 636, no. 1, pp. 379-392. Available at:
  16. ^ Zoltai, SC & Vitt, DH (1995), 'Canadian wetlands: environmental gradients and classification.', Vegetatio. [online], vol. 118, pp. 131-137. Available at:

Last updated: 12 May 2015

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment, Science and Innovation, Queensland (2015) Wetland classification and types, WetlandInfo website, accessed 25 June 2024. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment, Science and Innovation