Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE (Open Access)

Climate change and its implications for Australia’s freshwater fish

John R. Morrongiello A B M N , Stephen J. Beatty C , James C. Bennett D E , David A. Crook B F , David N. E. N. Ikedife D , Mark J. Kennard G H , Adam Kerezsy H I , Mark Lintermans J , Dale G. McNeil B K , Bradley J. Pusey G H and Thomas Rayner L

A School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Vic. 3800, Australia.

B eWater Cooperative Research Centre, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

C Centre for Fish, Fisheries and Aquatic Ecosystem Research, School of Biological Sciences, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia.

D Entura-Hydro Tasmania, Hobart, Tas. 7001, Australia.

E Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, University of Tasmania, Sandy Bay, Tas. 7005, Australia.

F Department of Sustainability and Environment, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Heidelberg, Vic. 3084, Australia.

G Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge Commonwealth Environmental Research Facility, Griffith University, Nathan, Qld 4111, Australia.

H Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Brisbane, Nathan, Qld 4111, Australia.

I Bush Heritage Australia, Melbourne, Vic. 3000, Australia.

J Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

K South Australian Research and Development Institute, Aquatic Sciences, Henley Beach, SA 5022, Australia.

L Australian Wetlands and Rivers Institute, the University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.

M Present address: CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, GPO Box 1538, Hobart, Tas. 7001, Australia.

N Corresponding author. Email: john.morrongiello@csiro.au

Marine and Freshwater Research 62(9) 1082-1098 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MF10308
Submitted: 7 December 2010  Accepted: 8 May 2011   Published: 21 September 2011

Abstract

Freshwater environments and their fishes are particularly vulnerable to climate change because the persistence and quality of aquatic habitat depend heavily on climatic and hydrologic regimes. In Australia, projections indicate that the rate and magnitude of climate change will vary across the continent. We review the likely effects of these changes on Australian freshwater fishes across geographic regions encompassing a diversity of habitats and climatic variability. Commonalities in the predicted implications of climate change on fish included habitat loss and fragmentation, surpassing of physiological tolerances and spread of alien species. Existing anthropogenic stressors in more developed regions are likely to compound these impacts because of the already reduced resilience of fish assemblages. Many Australian freshwater fish species are adapted to variable or unpredictable flow conditions and, in some cases, this evolutionary history may confer resistance or resilience to the impacts of climate change. However, the rate and magnitude of projected change will outpace the adaptive capacities of many species. Climate change therefore seriously threatens the persistence of many of Australia’s freshwater fish species, especially of those with limited ranges or specific habitat requirements, or of those that are already occurring close to physiological tolerance limits. Human responses to climate change should be proactive and focus on maintaining population resilience through the protection of habitat, mitigation of current anthropogenic stressors, adequate planning and provisioning of environmental flows and the consideration of more interventionist options such as managed translocations.

Additional keywords: arid zone, drought, environmental flows, freshwater fish, life history, local adaptation, refugia, threatened species.


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