Applying knowledge of river flow–ecology links

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.

Our current environmental flow research is examining the ecological responses to changes to flow in WA’s Fitzroy River, NT’s Daly River and rivers in Qld’s southern Gulf of Carpentaria, and builds on previous work in these catchments. To maximise the usefulness of this work, we need 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 key to water planning, and to assess the river flow-related impacts of development proposals and climate change in catchments with limited field data.

This project is supporting water planning in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland, and national water policy, by:

  • synthesising findings from research on links between river flow and river ecology in northern Australia
  • evaluating the transferability of environmental flow research from the Fitzroy River (WA), Daly River (NT) and rivers in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria (Qld) to other northern catchments and regions
  • increasing transparency for water allocation decisions based on flow–ecology relationships inferred from elsewhere in the north
  • presenting findings in formats suited to water planners and managers.

Project activities

  • Characterise and synthesise studies of flow–ecology responses in northern Australia in terms of factors such as the type, scope and scale of each response, and its geographic location
  • Provide information to facilitate the transfer of flow–ecology responses. This includes considerations around geographical variations in river and wetland characteristics such as hydrology, floodplain inundation, geomorphology, topography and disturbance
  • Analyse this data to generate maps, conceptual models and other products that evaluate and communicate the transferability of key flow–ecology responses
  • Identify challenges and opportunities for transferring knowledge of flow–ecology responses.

Anticipated outputs

  • Synthesis report with guiding principles for water managers
January 2019

Martin Kainz presents how fatty acids can be used as biomarkers in analysing food webs and trophic flow.

January 2019

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.

January 2019

David Crook discusses how otolith chemistry can help explain and document fish life history.

January 2019

Glenn McGregor presents on how environmental assessments contribute to the evaluation of Water Plans in Queensland at a DES Workshop from December 2018.

January 2019

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
[email protected]

        UWA Logo        NT govermment logo  

  • Mitchell River, photo Kerry Trapnell.
  • Daly River, photo Patch Clapp.
  • Fitzroy River, photo Michael Douglas.
  • Ecosystems respond to changes in flow, photo Michael Douglas.
  • Flood flows support important ecosystems and ecosystem services.