1. A 7-year study was conducted in three hydrologically distinct sections within the highly regulated, lowland Campaspe River to investigate the influence of hydrology on temporal and spatial patterns in fish composition, abundance and recruitment. One section had 6 months, one section 2 months and one section no months of increased flow due to storage releases. The fish fauna of the less regulated, nearby Broken River served as a reference to which that of the Campaspe River was compared for the last 3 years of the study to allow insight into the relative effects of hydrology, barriers to movement and other environmental characteristics. The study included one high-flow year, a moderate-flow year and five low-flow years.
2. A total of 16 fish species – 10 native and six alien – were caught in the Campaspe River, although of the native species, only three are considered to have self-sustaining populations. The remaining species are either itinerants or a result of stocking. Alien species comprised approximately 64% of the total biomass of all fish caught.
3. Overall composition of the fish fauna did not differ significantly by year, but did by section of river. Species richness and the abundance of most of the dominant species also differed significantly by river section, but there was little inter-annual variation in the abundance of any species, except for European perch and for common carp; the latter showing an increase in abundance following a high-flow event during the spring of 2000 as a result of recruitment.
4. Overall faunal composition was not influenced by hydrology. However, multiple regression indicated that species richness, abundance of the dominant species and abundance of young-of-year (YOY) of golden perch, European perch and common carp all were influenced significantly by hydrological variables. The nature of the relationships was dependent on river section and hydrological season (‘winter’ or ‘spring/summer’). Of note was the result that the total abundance of fish and that of YOY common carp were significantly positively related to the number of spells above the threshold for movement upstream through the lower two weirs in the Campaspe River. Only one significant relationship between hydrological and fish-related variables was found for the upper river section, whereas seven and five were found for the lower and middle sections respectively.
5. Comparisons with fish collected in the Broken River over 3 years suggest that the fauna of the Broken River is in a more natural state than that of the Campaspe River. Since the two rivers do not differ substantially in water quality, and since both contain significant weirs, which act as barriers to movement of fish, flow regulation is most likely to be the major reason for the poor state of the fauna in the Campaspe River.