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 Just Accepted

This article has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication. It is in production and has not been edited, so may differ from the final published form.

Persistence of in-stream waterholes in ephemeral rivers of tropical northern Australia and potential impacts of climate change

David McJannet, Steve Marvanek, Anne Kinsey-Henderson, Cuan Petheram, Jim Wallace


Many northern Australian rivers have limited or non-existent dry season flow and rivers tend to dry to a series of pools, or waterholes, which become particularly important refugial habitat for aquatic biota during the periods between streamflow events. This study developed techniques to identify in-stream waterholes across large and inaccessible areas of the Flinders and Gilbert catchments using Landsat imagery. Application of this technique to 400 scenes between 2003 and 2010 facilitated the identification of key waterhole refugia which are likely to persist during all years. Relationships for predicting total waterhole area from streamflow characteristics were produced for four river reaches. Using these relationships and streamflow predictions based upon climate data scaled using 15 global climate models, the potential impacts of future climate on waterhole persistence was assessed. Reductions in waterhole area of more than 60% were modelled in some years under drier scenarios and this represents a large reduction in available habitat for areas which already have limited in-stream refugia. Conversely, under wetter future climates the total area of waterholes increased. The approach developed here has applicability in other catchments, both in Australia and globally, and for assessing the impacts of changed flow resulting from water resource development.

MF14035  Accepted 11 April 2014
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