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Keywords:

  • floodplain;
  • Murray–Darling Basin;
  • environmental flow;
  • overbank;
  • in-channel

Summary

Flooding is often considered a stimulus for production of fish in floodplain rivers. In the southern Murray–Darling Basin (MDB), Australia, however, few native fish species have been shown to use the floodplain for spawning, and recruitment has been positively and negatively associated with flooding. In 2010/11, extensive flooding in the lower River Murray provided an opportunity to investigate the recruitment response of Golden Perch (Macquaria ambigua ambigua) following 10 years of drought and floodplain isolation. Annual variation in Golden Perch abundance and recruitment were investigated in anabranch and main channel habitats at Chowilla in the floodplain geomorphic region of the lower River Murray over a 7-year period incorporating the flood and 6 years of in-channel flow. Spatial variation in recruitment in the lower River Murray was also investigated by comparing the age structure of Golden Perch in the swamplands/lakes, gorge and floodplain geomorphic regions. Golden Perch abundance in the Chowilla region increased significantly postflooding compared with drought years. Age structures indicated that increased abundance was due predominantly to fish spawned during the flood (2010/11) and the previous year (2009/10), which was characterised by in-channel flows. Age structure was similar in the nearby Katarapko Anabranch system indicating a uniform postflood recruitment response in the floodplain geomorphic region. Juvenile Golden Perch from the 2010/11 and 2009/10 cohorts were less apparent in the gorge and swamplands/lakes regions. Golden Perch have flexible life histories and will spawn and recruit in association with in-channel rises in flow and overbank flows, but significant increases in abundance in the lower River Murray may result from overbank flooding. Contemporary approaches to flow restoration in the MDB emphasise overbank flows and floodplain processes. We suggest, however, that environmental flow management that incorporates floodplain and in-channel processes, at appropriate spatio-temporal scales, will result in more robust populations of Golden Perch.