River flows support healthy ecosystems that provide a wealth of economic, social and cultural goods and services such as fisheries, recreation and tourism attractions, bush tucker, clean water, fertile floodplains and more. Understanding the links between river flows and healthy ecosystems is therefore critical to determining how much water is needed to maintain these goods and services. In places where these links are unknown, water planners need to infer relationships from similar places until enough local field data is collected and analysed.
Environmental flows research conducted through the Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program (NESP) has focused on 1) quantifying critical flow needs to sustain freshwater and coastal ecosystems, biodiversity and productivity in tropical northern Australia and 2) predicting ecological responses to flow alteration from water-resource developments. Much of this work has been conducted in the Fitzroy River (Western Australia), Daly River (Northern Territory) and rivers in Queensland’s southern Gulf of Carpentaria, and builds on previous work in these catchments. To maximise the usefulness of this research, it is important to evaluate how transferable research findings are to other locations and scales, and identify the key considerations when applying this knowledge. Understanding the inferential strength of flow–ecology links and their transferability to other locations is important for robust water planning assessment of flow-related impacts of development proposals and climate change in catchments with limited field data.
Chapter 2 of our report identifies potential constraints, opportunities and key considerations for transfer of flow-ecology knowledge. In particular, we evaluate the inferential strength of different types of ecological response relationships and issues of scope and scale. We also consider transfer and scaling of ecological responses through space and time.
Chapter 3 describes key flow-ecology principles to inform water planning and management (drawn from Douglas et al. 20191) and provides a synthesis of supporting evidence from NESP Northern Australia Hub environmental flow research in each focal catchment and from other studies in northern Australia.
Chapter 4 uses a case-study approach to review the quantity and quality of evidence supporting key principles relating to tropical freshwater food webs, evaluates potential transferability of aquatic food web research in northern Australia, and identifies spatial and conceptual gaps in our understanding of their ecology and management.
In Chapter 5, we synthesise ecohydrological risks associated with hydrologic alteration, river impoundment, fragmentation and other threats to ecological integrity.
Chapter 6 concludes by identifying management options to mitigate risks and enhance societal benefits of water resource development in northern Australia with a focus on strategic water resource planning and management, environmental flow management and water infrastructure management.
1. Douglas MM, Jackson S, Canham CA, Laborde S, Beesley L, Kennard MJ, Pusey BJ, Loomes R and Setterfield SA (2019) Conceptualising hydro-socio-ecological relationships to enable more integrated and inclusive water allocation planning, One Earth 1:361–373, doi:10.1016/j.oneear.2019.10.021.
Pusey, B.J., Douglas, M.M., Olden, J.D., Jackson, S., Allsop, Q., & Kennard, M.J. (2020). Connectivity, habitat, and flow regime influence fish assemblage structure: Implications for environmental water management in a perennial river of the wet–dry tropics of northern Australia. Aquatic Conserv: Mar Freshw Ecosyst. 2020; 1– 15. https://doi.org/10.1002/aqc.3347
Pusey B.J., Jardine T.D., Beesley L.S., Kennard M.J., Ho T.W., Bunn S.E., & Douglas M.M. (2020). Carbon sources supporting Australia’s most widely distributed freshwater fish, Nematalosa erebi (Günther) (Clupeidae: Dorosomatinae). Marine and Freshwater Research. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1071/MF20014
Martin Kainz presents how fatty acids can be used as biomarkers in analysing food webs and trophic flow.
Mike Venarsky presents at the December 2018 DES (Qld) Workshop about the community-level migration patterns of fish in the Mitchell River and some of its tributaries.
David Crook discusses how otolith chemistry can help explain and document fish life history.
Glenn McGregor presents on how environmental assessments contribute to the evaluation of Water Plans in Queensland at a DES Workshop from December 2018.
Jonathan Marshall explains how paleo-ecological tracers can help understand past ecosystem variability to predict and manage now and into the future.
This project, also known as the e-flows synthesis project, is being led by Associate Professor Mark Kennard from Griffith University. A/Professor Kennard will be assisted by researchers from Griffith University, Charles Darwin University and The University of Western Australia as well as by scientists, planners and managers from relevant Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia government departments.
This project is due for completion in June 2021.
Mark Kennard, Griffith University