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

Freshwater fish conservation in the face of critical water shortages in the southern Murray–Darling Basin, Australia

Michael P. Hammer A B F , Christopher M. Bice C , Arkellah Hall D , Adrienne Frears D , Adam Watt D , Nick S. Whiterod B , Luciano B. Beheregaray E , James O. Harris E and Brenton P. Zampatti C

A Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, PO Box 4646, Darwin, NT 0801, Australia.

B Aquasave – Nature Glenelg Trust, PO Box 2177, Mount Gambier, SA 5290, Australia.

C Inland Waters and Catchment Ecology Program, SARDI Aquatic Sciences, PO Box 120, Henley Beach, SA 5022, Australia.

D Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, GPO Box 1047, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia.

E School of Biological Sciences, Flinders University, Adelaide, SA 5043, Australia.

F Corresponding author. Email: michael.hammer@nt.gov.au

Marine and Freshwater Research 64(9) 807-821 https://doi.org/10.1071/MF12258
Submitted: 14 September 2012  Accepted: 1 March 2013   Published: 6 September 2013

Abstract

The lower reaches of the expansive Murray–Darling Basin, Australia, are a hotspot for freshwater biodiversity. The regional ecosystem, however, has been significantly altered by river regulation, including local and catchment-wide water abstraction. Freshwater fishes have suffered from the resultant altered flow regime, together with other threats including habitat degradation and alien species. Impacts reached a critical point (imminent species extinction) during a prolonged drought (1997–2010) that lead to broad-scale habitat loss and drying of refuges during 2007–2010, and urgent conservation measures were subsequently instigated for five threatened small-bodied fish species. A critical response phase included ad hoc interventions that were later incorporated within a broader, coordinated multi-agency program (i.e. the Drought Action Plan and Critical Fish Habitat projects). On-ground actions included local translocation, alien species control, in situ habitat maintenance (e.g. earthworks, environmental water delivery), fish rescues, artificial refuge establishment and captive breeding. Improved river flows signalled an initial phase of recovery in 2011–2012 that included reintroductions. The present paper aims to document the actions undertaken in the Lower Murray, and review successes and lessons from practical examples that will help guide and inform management responses to conserve fish in modified systems subjected to severe water decline.

Additional keywords: aquatic biodiversity, conservation units, Craterocephalus, environmental change, ESU, Gadopsis, Mogurnda, MU, Nannoperca.


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