Impacts of drought and predicted effects of climate change on fish growth in temperate Australian lakes

Authors

  • JOHN R. MORRONGIELLO,

    1. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, 123 Brown Street, Heidelberg, Vic. 3084, Australia
    2. eWater CRC, University of Canberra Innovation Centre, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia
    Search for more papers by this author
    • 1Present address: John R. Morrongiello, School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Vic. 3800, Australia.

  • DAVID A. CROOK,

    1. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, 123 Brown Street, Heidelberg, Vic. 3084, Australia
    2. eWater CRC, University of Canberra Innovation Centre, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • ALISON J. KING,

    1. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, 123 Brown Street, Heidelberg, Vic. 3084, Australia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • DAVID S. L. RAMSEY,

    1. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, 123 Brown Street, Heidelberg, Vic. 3084, Australia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • PAUL BROWN

    1. Department of Primary Industries, Marine and Freshwater Fisheries Research Institute, Private Bag 20, Alexandra, Vic. 3714, Australia
    Search for more papers by this author

John R. Morrongiello, tel. +61 3 9055 1660, fax +61 3 9905 5613, e-mail: john.morrongiello@sci.monash.edu.au

Abstract

Climate change is expected to negatively impact many freshwater environments due to reductions in stream-flow and increases in temperature. These conditions, however, can already be found today in areas experiencing significant drought; current observations of species' responses to droughts can be used to make predictions about their future responses to climate change. Using otolith analysis, we recreated golden perch (Macquaria ambigua) growth chronologies from two temperate lake populations in southeastern Australia over a 15-year period pre- and during a supraseasonal drought. We related interannual growth variation to landscape-scale changes in temperature and hydrological regimes: fish growth declined as water levels in the lakes dropped during the drought, but this effect was offset by increased growth in warmer years. We hypothesize that golden perch are responding to fluctuations in food availability and intraspecific competition related to water level and to an optimization of physiological growth conditions related to increases in growing season length. Based on our analyses, we made predictions of future growth under a number of climate change scenarios that incorporate forecast deviations in stream-flows and air temperature. Despite climatic models predicting significant declines in future water availability, fish growth may increase due to a disproportionate lengthening of the growing season. As the two lakes are at the limit of the southerly range of golden perch, our results are consistent with previous findings of climate-change driven latitudinal range shifts in a poleward direction. We discuss assumptions concerning the constancy of ecological interactions into the future that warrant further study. Our research provides a novel application of biochronological analysis that could be used elsewhere to further our knowledge of species responses to changing environments.

Ancillary