Environmental impacts on spawning and survival of fish larvae and juveniles in an upland river system of the Murray-Darling Basin

  • Kylie Peterson

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Six rivers within the upper Mumbidgee catchment were sampled for larval and juvenile fish. The rivers represented both regulated and unregulated flow regimes and varied widely in size. There was wide variation in the larval fish communities supported by each river, both in terms of the species diversity and total abundance of fish sampled. The highly regulated reach of the Mumbidgee River sampled during this study had the highest numbers of native species and native individuals of any river sampled. In the two rivers selected for further study, the Murmmbidgee and Goodradigbee, there was a high level of inter-annual consistency in the species composition within the reaches sampled, despite considerable change in the temperature and flow regimes of both rivers. This indicates that at least some spawning of those species sampled may occur each year, regardless of environmental conditions. Estimates of the relative abundance of each species sampled changed markedly between years, and it is argued, on the basis of growth information contained in the otoliths, that differential survival of larvae and juveniles was largely responsible for this shift in relative abundance. Otolith microstructure provided information on the date of spawning and early growth patterns of all species sampled in the upper Mumumbidgee catchment. In addition to determining the age and thus 'birth-date' of an individual, the effect of a particular event or series of events has on growth, and subsequent survival, is permanently recorded in the otolith microstructure. This enables accurate back-calculation and correlation to management actions or natural events. No other research tool has this ability to retrospectively assess, on a daily basis, the impacts of management actions on condition and subsequent survival of fish larvae. Species sampled could be separated into three groups based on spawning requirements; those linked with flow, those linked with temperature and generalist species that appear to have river independent cues, such as photoperiod or moon phase. Patterns in growth rate during the early life history stages enabled quantification of the consequences of variation in environmental conditions on the survival and recruitment of various species. Growth was not always highly correlated with water temperature, in fact, for mountain galaxias, high temperatures appear to negatively affect larval condition and subsequent survival. Conversely, carp exhibited a strategy more consistent with common perceptions, with growth and survival increasing with increasing temperature. The study uncovered spawning and growth patterns that were unexpected. Age analysis of western carp gudgeon demonstrated that they had undertaken a mid-winter spawning, when the water temperature in the main channel was far lower than that at which spawning was previously recorded for this species. Redfin perch from the unregulated Goodradigbee River exhibited growth rates exceeding the published upper limits for this and other closely related species. This growth could not be correlated with either temperature or flow, indicating that there are additional factors that dominate growth rates of redfin perch in the Goodradigbee River. The proportion and abundance of native species alone is not necessarily indicative of a 'healthy' or pristine system; some native species may be positively affected by river regulation, at least as juveniles. Comparison of the current larval fish community with likely pre-European fish communities does provide an indication of change to the system. The results of this study suggest that larval fish growth rates can be strongly influenced by environmental conditions, thus providing a powerful tool for monitoring future change and the factors which cause it. This study has demonstrated the value of larval and juvenile fish age and growth information, derived from otolith microstructure techniques, for many aspects of river management. Current river management priorities for which these techniques provide unique information include the determination of environmental flow regimes and the control of undesirable exotic species such as carp.
    Date of Award2003
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorBob Kearney (Supervisor), Martin THOMS (Supervisor), Paul Humphries (Supervisor) & Richard Norris (Supervisor)

    Cite this