Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Estuarine characteristics, water quality and heavy metal contamination as determinants of fish species composition in intermittently open estuaries

K. O’Mara A , A. Miskiewicz B and M. Y. L. Wong A C

A Centre for Sustainable Ecosystems Solutions, School of Biological Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia.

B Wollongong City Council, 41 Burelli Street, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: marianw@uow.edu.au

Marine and Freshwater Research 68(5) 941-953 https://doi.org/10.1071/MF15409
Submitted: 29 October 2015  Accepted: 11 May 2016   Published: 26 July 2016

Abstract

Estuaries are critical aquatic environments that are used by many fish during their life cycle. However, estuaries often suffer from poor water quality as a result of anthropogenic activities. Fish diversity studies in estuaries are common, although few have examined whether correlations exist between water quality, metal contamination and fish assemblages. In the present study we investigated the effect of abiotic conditions, heavy metals and estuary characteristics on the abundance, diversity and composition of fish in four intermittently open estuaries along the Illawarra coast of south-eastern Australia. The heterogeneity of environmental conditions was reflected in the fish assemblages in each estuary. Environmental variables predicted fish species composition, and estuaries in particularly poor condition contained few species (estuarine residents) in high abundance, indicating their ability to acclimatise and survive in conditions that are hostile to other species. Overall, these findings demonstrate that estuarine fish assemblages may be useful indicators of estuary condition and reveal the importance of managing anthropogenic activities in the surrounding catchment to improve water quality so that biodiversity of fish can be restored in these estuarine environments.

Additional keywords: biodiversity, catchment management, estuary, pollution.


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