Improved detection of non-native freshwater fish species in northern Australia

Project start date: 01/04/2024
Project end date: 30/09/2025
NESP funding: $171,552 (GST-exclusive)

Australian rivers, lakes and streams are home to an amazing variety of native freshwater fish. Many of these fish are only found within singular river systems.

Unfortunately, the aquarium trade and low-intensity aquaculture has led to the introduction of several non-native freshwater fish species, particularly in Northern Australia. Non-native fish species outcompete natives for space and resources, putting many native freshwater species at risk.

Mozambique tilapia is an invasive species in Northern Australia. By Destinationkho CC-BY-SA 3.0
Mozambique tilapia is an invasive species in Northern Australia. By Destinationkho CC-BY-SA 3.0.

We are investigating and where these invasive non-native species have made their way into northern Australian freshwater systems and how we can detect them, which will provide crucial advice for waterway managers.

This investigation includes a review of existing environmental DNA (eDNA) detection tools. Once gathered our data will help in the development of improved eDNA-based tools and will inform field surveys to detect high-priority species using eDNA barcoding.

Our research is helping government authorities to put policy in place that minimises the risk to the Australian environment and native species from non-native fish.

Key research areas

To help protect Australian aquatic ecosystems and native freshwater fish from non-native invasive fish, this project is:

  • evaluating existing eDNA detection tools and developing an improved eDNA-based tool (and recommendations for further improvement) for rapid screening of water samples for non-native fish
  • surveying priority sites for the presence of non-native fish
  • informing DCCEEW regarding management of the aquarium trade Live Import List.


  • The common carp is damaging to river ecosystem health. Photo: H. Zell CC-BY-SA 3.0
  • Spotted tilapia outcompetes Australian native fish. Photo: Curtis Meyers CC-BY-SA 4.0
  • Oreochromis mossambicus or Mozambique tilapia. Photo: Greg Hume CC-BY-SA 3.0