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

Short-term effects of a prolonged blackwater event on aquatic fauna in the Murray River, Australia: considerations for future events

A. J. King A B C , Z. Tonkin A and J. Lieshcke A

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

B Present address: Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: Alison.King@cdu.edu.au

Marine and Freshwater Research 63(7) 576-586 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MF11275
Submitted: 13 December 2011  Accepted: 8 May 2012   Published: 27 June 2012

Abstract

Blackwater contains high levels of dissolved organic carbon that can be rapidly consumed by microbes, sometimes leading to extremely low levels of dissolved oxygen (hypoxia) and drastic consequences for aquatic life, including fish kills. Drought-breaking rains in late 2010 inundated large areas of the Barmah–Millewa Forest, southern Murray–Darling Basin, Australia, and resulted in a prolonged hypoxic blackwater event within the forest and the Murray River downstream. This study investigated the short-term effects of the blackwater event on fish and crayfish. Compared with non-affected sites, blackwater affected sites had: significantly higher abundances of emerged Murray crayfish (Euastacus armatus) that were vulnerable to desiccation, predation and exploitation; large numbers of dead or dying shrimp and yabbies; significantly reduced abundances of native fish; but contained similar abundances of alien fish species (particularly common carp, Cyprinus carpio). The nature of the mechanisms that caused these changes and the longer term significance of the event on the river system remains an important area for future research. We also propose a range of management considerations for reducing the blackwater impacts, such as the timing of environmental water delivery after prolonged drought and the importance of maintaining river–floodplain connectivity during flood periods.

Additional keywords: crustaceans, drought, environmental management, environmental water management, fish kills, floodplain, Murray cod, Murray crayfish, river regulation.


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