The distributions of 390 taxa of benthic macroinvertebrates collected in forty-eight estuaries and 101 fish species collected in seventy-five Tasmanian estuaries were related to geographical and environmental variables. Distribution patterns for the two taxonomic groups were largely congruent at both between and within-estuary scales. Faunal composition and the number of species collected at a site were primarily related to site salinity, the biomass of seagrass and tidal range. At the broader estuary scale, the distributions of macroinvertebrate and fish assemblages were primarily correlated with the presence of an entrance bar.
Species richness varied with geographical location for both macrofauna and fishes, with highest numbers of species occurring in the Furneaux Group, north-eastern Tasmania and south-eastern Tasmania. These patterns primarily reflected differences in estuary type between regions rather than concentrations of locally endemic species. Although the majority of species collected during the study were marine vagrants, they constituted a very low proportion of total animal densities within estuaries. Only four species considered exotic to Tasmania were identifed.
Nearly all species recorded from Tasmanian estuaries occurred widely within the state and have also been recorded in south-eastern Australia. Only 1% of estuarine fish species and < 5% of invertebrate species were considered endemic to the state. The generally wide ranges of species around Tasmania were complicated by (i) the absence of most species from the west coast (ii) a small (< 10%) component of species that occurred only in the north-east and Furneaux Group (eastern Bass Strait), and (iii) a few species (< 5%) restricted to other regions.
The low number of species recorded from estuaries along the western Tasmanian coast reflected extremely low faunal biomass in that area. This depression in biomass on the west coast was attributed to unusually low concentrations of dissolved nutrients in rivers and dark tannin-stained waters which greatly restricted algal photosynthesis and primary production.