1. Floodplain rivers in Australia’s wet/dry tropics are regarded as being among the most ecologically intact and bio-diverse lotic ecosystems in the world, yet there have been relatively few community-based studies of their aquatic fauna.
2. To investigate relationships between hydrological connectivity and biodiversity in the region, macroinvertebrates were collected from sites within two contrasting floodplain rivers, the ‘tropical’ Gregory River and ‘dryland’ Flinders River systems, during the dry season and analysed at various spatial scales. A subset of sites was re-sampled in the following dry season to explore temporal variation. The fauna consisted of 124 morphotaxa, dominated by gatherers and the Insecta.
3. As predicted, hydrological connectivity (the lotic or lentic status of waterbodies) had a major influence on macroinvertebrate assemblage composition and diversity, both in space and time. Assemblages from waterbodies with similar connection histories were most alike, and beta-diversity between assemblages was greatest between lotic and lentic waterbodies, tending to increase with increasing spatial separation.
4. At smaller spatial scales, a number of within-waterbody, habitat and water quality characteristics were important for explaining variation (61%) in the taxonomic organization of assemblages, and characteristics associated with primary productivity and habitat diversity were important for explaining variation (45%) in the functional organization of assemblages. However, much of the small-scale environmental variation across the study region appeared to be related to broad-scale variation in hydrological connectivity, which had both direct and indirect effects on macroinvertebrate assemblages.
5. Conservation of the biodiversity in Australia’s wet/dry tropics may depend on conserving the natural variation in hydrological connectivity and the unregulated flow of floodplain rivers.
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