Aquatic biodiversity conservation and management

This research helped to identify priority areas and actions for the conservation of aquatic biodiversity in Northern Australia. It included a number of sub projects that generated new knowledge on; the distribution of freshwater species across northern Australia; estuarine fish in Kakadu National Park; and how freshwater fish would respond to a number of threats including climate change.   It also developed new approaches to improve planning for freshwater ecosystems.

Northern Australian rivers, wetlands and estuaries support a unique and diverse array of aquatic plants and animals that are highly valued by people.  The high conservation values of northern Australia’s tropical rivers, even in protected areas, are under increasing threat from feral animals, weeds, overgrazing, catchment clearing, fire, increased development and climate change.

Knowledge on how aquatic biodiversity is distributed across the landscape and on the processes that sustain it is vital for effective conservation and management.  An effective framework is needed to bring together complex information on what actions to undertake and where to undertake them for the greatest conservation benefit of the resources invested.

  • A comprehensive survey of estuarine fish within the Alligator Rivers region in Kakadu National Park in both wet and dry seasons and using a variety of sampling methods;
  • an assessment of the effects of sea level rise on floodplain freshwater fish species in Kakadu National Park;
  • incorporating ecological and evolutionary processes into a freshwater conservation planning recommendations for Northern Australia, including:
    • planning for spatial and temporal connectivity;
    • protecting important aquatic refugia in intermittent systems; and
    • conserving genetic diversity which is important for species to be resilient to environmental changes.
  • the development of a new decision framework and mathematical tool to identify which conservation management actions to implement where to maximise the persistence of species with the least cost; and
  • generated data on species distributions, species responses to threats and costs of management actions to inform the decision framework.

The project has delivered a better understanding of the environmental and evolutionary processes that sustain aquatic biodiversity.  It has improved data, tools and approaches for effective and efficient freshwater conservation prioritization. This has included:

  • An assessment of fish biodiversity & risks in Kakadu National Park;
  • geodatabases and maps of aquatic ecosystem attributes and threats;
  • mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence database for freshwater fish;
  • predictive models of freshwater species distributions;
  • estimates of ecological responses of aquatic assets to conservation management actions.
  • new approaches to improve planning for freshwater ecosystems (incorporating ecological and evolutionary processes); and
  • spatial prioritization tool for multi-action planning.

Field work was undertaken within Kakadu National Park and in the Daly River catchment in the Northern Territory.  Models of freshwater fish species distributions were prepared for across Northern Australia.  The tools and framework developed are relevant across northern Australia.

Integrating multi-directional connectivity requirements in systematic conservation planning for freshwater systems (journal article)
Fish response to the temporal hierarchy of the natural flow regime in the Daly River, northern Australia (journal article)

Stewart-Koster, B., Olden, J. D., Kennard, M. J., Pusey, B. J., Boone, E. L., Douglas, M. and Jackson, S. (2011), Fish response to the temporal hierarchy of the natural flow regime in the Daly River, northern Australia. Journal of Fish Biology, 79: 1525–1544. doi: 10.1111/j.1095-8649.2011.03072.x

Phylogenetic effects on functional traits and life history strategies of Australian freshwater fish (journal article)

Sternberg, D., & Kennard, M. (2014). Phylogenetic effects on functional traits and life history strategies of Australian freshwater fish. Ecography, 37(1), 54-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0587.2013.00362.x

Dynamics of in-stream wood and its importance as fish habitat in a large tropical floodplain river (journal article)

Pettit, N., Warfe, D., Kennard, M., Pusey, B., Davies, P., & Douglas, M. (2013). DYNAMICS OF IN‐STREAM WOOD AND ITS IMPORTANCE AS FISH HABITAT IN A LARGE TROPICAL FLOODPLAIN RIVER. River Research and Applications, 29(7), 864-875. doi: 10.1002/rra.2580

Dynamics of in-stream wood and its importance as fish habitat in a large tropical floodplain river (journal article)
Data acquisition for conservation assessments: Is the effort worth it?

Hermoso V, Kennard MJ, Linke S (2013) Data Acquisition for Conservation Assessments: Is the Effort Worth It? PLoS ONE 8(3): e59662. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059662

An integrated assessment of financial, hydrological, ecological and social impacts of ‘development’ on Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in northern Australia

Hermoso V, Kennard MJ, Linke S (2013) Data Acquisition for Conservation Assessments: Is the Effort Worth It? PLoS ONE 8(3): e59662. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059662

Using water residency time to enhance spatio-temporal connectivity for conservation planning in seasonally dynamic freshwater ecosystems

Hermoso, V., Ward, D. P., Kennard, M. J. (2012), Using water residency time to enhance spatio-temporal connectivity for conservation planning in seasonally dynamic freshwater ecosystems. Journal of Applied Ecology, 49: 1028–1035. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2012.02191.x

Uncertainty in coarse conservation assessments hinders the efficient achievement of conservation goals
Merging connectivity rules and large-scale condition assessment improves conservation adequacy in river systems

Journal of Applied Ecology, Linke, S, Kennard, MJ, Hermoso, V, Olden, JD, Stein, J, Pusey, BJ, 10/2012

Prioritizing refugia for freshwater biodiversity conservation in highly seasonal ecosystems
Environmental, spatial and phylogenetic determinants of fish life-history traits and functional composition of Australian rivers

Sternberg, D., & Kennard, M. (2013). Environmental, spatial and phylogenetic determinants of fish life‐history traits and functional composition of Australian rivers. Freshwater Biology, 58(9), 1767-1778. doi:10.1111/fwb.12166

Flood rhythm and ecosystem responses in tropical riverscapes
Evaluating the costs and benefits of systematic data acquisition for conservation assessments
Assessing the risks and opportunities of presence-only data for conservation planning
Biogeographic determinants of Australian freshwater fish life-history indices assessed within a spatio-phylogenetic framework
Are large-scale flow experiments informing the science and management of freshwater ecosystems?

The project was led by Dr Mark Kennard from Griffith University.  The team included researchers from Griffith University and the University of Western Australia.

The team would like to acknowledge the support of park managers and Traditional Owners in undertaking field work within Kakadu National Park and also the support of Daly River Traditional Owners and NT Fisheries in undertaking field work within the Daly River.

Project Leader:
Associate Prof Mark Kennard
Griffith University
[email protected]
07 3735 7401

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