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Keywords:

  • aquatic refuge;
  • freshwater fishes;
  • groundwater reduction;
  • Mediterranean climate;
  • secondary salinization;
  • south-western Australia;
  • surface flow decline

Abstract

There is little understanding of how climate change will impact potamodromous freshwater fishes. Since the mid 1970s, a decline in annual rainfall in south-western Australia (a globally recognized biodiversity hotspot) has resulted in the rivers of the region undergoing severe reductions in surface flows (ca. 50%). There is universal agreement amongst Global Climate Models that rainfall will continue to decline in this region. Limited data are available on the movement patterns of the endemic freshwater fishes of south-western Australia or on the relationship between their life histories and hydrology. We used this region as a model to determine how dramatic hydrological change may impact potamodromous freshwater fishes. Migration patterns of fishes in the largest river in south-western Australia were quantified over a 4 year period and were related to a number of key environmental variables including discharge, temperature, pH, conductivity and dissolved oxygen. Most of the endemic freshwater fishes were potamodromous, displaying lateral seasonal spawning migrations from the main channel into tributaries, and there were significant temporal differences in movement patterns between species. Using a model averaging approach, amount of discharge was clearly the best predictor of upstream and downstream movement for most species. Given past and projected reductions in surface flow and groundwater, the findings have major implications for future recruitment rates and population viabilities of potamodromous fishes. Freshwater ecosystems in drying climatic regions can only be managed effectively if such hydro-ecological relationships are considered. Proactive management and addressing existing anthropogenic stressors on aquatic ecosystems associated with the development of surface and groundwater resources and land use is required to increase the resistance and resilience of potamodromous fishes to ongoing flow reductions.