Using flow guilds of freshwater fish in an adaptive management framework to simplify environmental flow delivery for semi-arid riverine systems



Freshwater rivers have been substantially altered by development and flow regulation. Altered hydrological regimes have affected a range of biota, but impacts are often most obvious on freshwater fish. Flow largely influences the range of physical habitat available to fish at various life history stages. Biological rhythms are therefore often linked to flow and optimized so that opportunities for spawning, growth and dispersal are synchronized. Assuming that flow therefore becomes the main factor which structures freshwater fish communities, the use of species specific biological information should be able to inform adaptive flow delivery strategies from the river reach to catchment scale. A test of this assertion was performed as a case study of native fish within the Edward-Wakool River system (New South Wales, Australia). Fish within the system were assigned to one of four groups based on biological similarity. Aspects of reproductive and movement ecology were then reviewed to generate optimal flow release strategies for each group. Life expectancy and hydrological constraints were then investigated and used to develop a possible 10-year flow delivery program that could generate ecological outcomes within a strategic adaptive management framework that considered potential impacts on third parties. The approach could be used to develop flow characteristics to benefit biota in any watercourse provided enough data are available to link potential outcomes with flow delivery.