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Advances in the aquatic sciences

The effect of water level on lateral movements of fish between river and off-channel habitats and implications for management

Jarod Lyon A B D , Ivor Stuart A C , David Ramsey A and Justin O’Mahony A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Department of Sustainability and Environment Victoria, 123 Brown Street, Heidelberg, Vic. 3084, Australia.

B The Environment Institute and School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia 5005, Australia.

C Present address: Kingfisher Research, 20 Chapman Street, Diamond Creek, Vic. 3089, Australia.

D Corrresponding author. Email:

Marine and Freshwater Research 61(3) 271-278
Submitted: 28 August 2008  Accepted: 26 June 2009   Published: 29 March 2010


Off-channel habitats, such as wetlands and backwaters, are important for the productivity of river systems and for many species of native fish. This study aimed to investigate the fish community, timing and cues that stimulated movement to and from off-channel habitats in the highly regulated Lake Hume to Lake Mulwala reach of the Murray River, south-eastern Australia. In 2004–05, 193 712 fish were collected moving bi-directionally between a 50-km section of the Murray River and several off-channel habitats. Lateral fish movements approximated water level fluctuations. Generally as water levels rose, fish left the main river channel and moved into newly flooded off-channel habitats; there was bi-directional movement as water levels peaked; on falling levels fish moved back to the permanent riverine habitats. Fish previously classified as ‘wetland specialists’, such as carp gudgeons (Hypseleotris spp.), have a more flexible movement and life-history strategy including riverine habitation. The high degree of lateral movement indicates the importance of habitat connectivity for the small-bodied fish community. Wetlands adjacent to the Murray River are becoming increasingly regulated by small weirs and ensuring lateral fish movement will be important in maintaining riverine-wetland biodiversity.

Additional keywords: Australia, carp gudgeon, floodplain, Murray River.


The authors thank Kris Pittman and Karl Pomorin for help with the surveys. Zeb Tonkin, Justin O’Connor and John Koehn (Arthur Rylah Institute), Martin Mallen-Cooper and two anonymous referees improved an earlier draft of the manuscript. This work was carried out under NSW DPI collecting permit F93/158. This project was funded under the Murray–Darling Basin Commission’s Living Murray Program. This project was carried out under Department of Sustainability and Environment ethics permit AEC 04/003 and under Adelaide University Animal Ethics approval number 0000009058.


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