What’s in a name?

Waterholes, boinkas, mallines …. wetlands in drylands (WiDs) have highly diverse characteristics and an equally diverse set of local and regional names.  This page will highlight some of the more unusually-named WiDs.


But first, a more fundamental question: where did the term ‘wetlands in drylands’ originate?

According to Moss (1980), the term ‘wetlands’ – as opposed to ‘wet lands’ – arose from a classification scheme devised in the 1950s by the United States Fish and Wildlife Scheme (USFWS). Thereafter, the term has become widely adopted as an all-inclusive term for describing lands that are ephemerally, seasonally, or permanently inundated by fresh and/or salt water, including in the title of academic textbooks and journal papers. [Nb. the Merriam-Webster online dictionary states that the first known use of ‘wetland’ was in 1669 but provides no supporting evidence, and may not be distinguishing between use of ‘wet land’ and ‘wetland’].

The term ‘drylands’ – as opposed to ‘dry lands’ – is proving harder to pin down. Here too, the term is likely to have arisen in American English, possibly in the 1950s in the arid lands programme papers of the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). As an umbrella term for describing land that is subject to high but variable degrees of aridity, it also has since become widely adopted, including in the title of academic textbooks and journal papers. [Nb. the Merriam-Webster online dictionary states that the first known use of ‘dryland’ is in 1893 but again provides no supporting evidence].

As far as we are aware, the first known use of ‘wetlands in drylands’ in the title of an academic journal paper was by Scoones (1991) but if other information is forthcoming, we stand to be corrected.

References cited:

Moss, D. 1980. Historic changes in terminology for wetlands. Coastal Zone Management Journal 8: 215-225.

Scoones, I. 1991. Wetlands in drylands: key resources for agricultural and pastoral production in Africa. Ambio 20: 366–71.


The Australian ‘billabong’

A billabong is a seasonal or intermittent wetland formed within an abandoned meander loop (or, oxbow lake) adjacent to the main channel of a river. Some billabongs in arid regions take the form of waterholes which occur at the confluence of two smaller channels and terminate shortly thereafter. The term billabong loosely translates to “dead rivers”, reflecting the boom and bust cycles of wetting and drying in the arid interior of Australia.

View over King's Billabong on the Murray River, Victoria, Australia. Photo by Tim Ralph.
View over King’s Billabong on the Murray River, Victoria, Australia. Photo by Tim Ralph.
King's Billabong on the Murray River, Victoria, Australia. Photo by Tim Ralph.
King’s Billabong on the Murray River, Victoria, Australia. Photo by Tim Ralph.
Google Earth image (2013) of King's Billabong, Victoria, Australia.
Google Earth image (2013) of King’s Billabong, Victoria, Australia.

 

a collaborative international initiative to promote the science and management of these important landscapes and ecosystems