Author Archives: Brendan Ebner

IMG_1693 cropped for The lair

The Ghost

Ebb, June 2017

Mid 2014, I woke up one morning with a terrible hangover. I’m not a morning person at the best of times, and so it goes that I couldn’t board my mate’s boat to go out to the reef with a bunch of jolly cockroaches (New South Welshmen). Just the thought of being on the sea with green gills was a flashback of sheer terror from my teenage years in a commercial fishing family. Anyways, I wandered along the beach where it was blowing 20 to 25 knots, and I snuck into a small coastal stream for a sobering snorkel. The head was pulsating and my spirits were at best a one out of ten. Forgoing the reef experience due to too much of the amber had been a school boy error at best. For a couple of hours, I took a few photos, counted fish and estimated body sizes, scribbled notes and then it started to rain. The stream was well flowing, and this is often when the male rabbitheads (Sicyopterus lagocephalus) colour up in their dazzling attire. My mate, James Donaldson (whom grew up in NSW) had taken a cracking photo of this species and to say I was envious would be a reasonable assumption. Now I was starting to get excited about the prospect of getting a few OK shots and taking on the NSW pack (of course this is how nature photographers typically think of photography, by comparing it to a brutal game of football).


The male Rabbitheaded cling goby as captured on camera by James Donaldson.


I got to the last pool of the day, just below a waterfall, and was preparing for some high ISO setting shots in the partial light because I had seen several rabbits in this pool years ago. Then suddenly I was confronted with the largest cling goby I had ever seen. I only got a quick glance, it had a red eye and a predominantly brown body, and then I searched around for it some more only to reveal no cigar. It had gone to ground, and I was left licking my wounds and heading back along the sea shore to camp. Camp was kitted with a TV and a hot shower, so it was hardly the worst I had felt that day.

Later in the evening I was horizontal and wrestling with the fact that Queensland had lost a game of footy. This is not any easy feeling to shake if you are from God’s country and you like rugby league. Among other things, I knew that In a couple of days I would return to the mainland only to contend with zealous text messages from an old fisho friend, Rhian Clear, regarding how sweet the game had been from the NSW perspective. But as I faded off to sleep, the last thing racing through my mind wasn’t footy it was this new giant brown cling goby. Was it real? Had the boys spiked my drinks the night before? It was dead-set Alice in Wonderland for fish biologists 101. So the next day, I set off back along the beach with three Go Pro cameras, some dive weights, and a fist full of cable-ties. Goes without saying – how good are cable-ties, eh? Anyways, I was expecting this goby to be so damn shy that I would need to set up the surveillance cameras.

As I was perched on this giant, piano-like rock preparing the cameras and attaching them to the weights, I spied this giant white goby from above the water surface. Yesterday it was brown, today it was a luminescent white with a red eye (Alice in Wonderland, the next level). A quick spit in my mask to clear the fog and then ever so slowly I lowered myself down the slippery rock face. Into the algal rock my gripping of finger nails somehow prevented what would have been an unforgivable splash below where the white apparition awaited. I then somehow bent my body like a rookie yoga master and extended head first through the water surface to fire off about 8 to 10 shots. All within only the failing body of middle aged man. The majestic goby cautiously grazed breakfast in the shallows right in front of my nose. After gathering myself once more, I retracted from the water having completed perhaps the shortest and shallowest dive of my life. Then it was time to activate the video cameras and position them about in the underwater boulder fields with film a rolling.


The Ghost, Sicyopterus cynocephalus (this individual is about 180 mm TL) (photo: for once, not by James Donaldson)


It was a magical bloody experience and despite less than ideal lighting conditions, the stills turned out alright and some very nice video of the giant cling goby dominating its domain was also forthcoming. A month or two later I fired up the Dirty Worm (my trusty boat) and I went back to that same spot with James Donaldson and Gerry Allen to pepper the joint with Go Pros in the bid to find out some more about this giant ghost of a cling goby. The fish turns out to be the ninth cling goby species verified to inhabit streams of the Wet Tropics in Australia. And that is what I will be rabbiting on about at ASFB this year.

ASFB student communication competition 2017 Albany Colour

Too busy to go somewhere small?

Ebb, June 2017


Ever meet those people that are too busy? Maybe you’re her. Maybe you’re him. We are all them occasionally. I guess living in the sticks, I’ve at times assumed city dwellers are the busy ones. Not that those of us in the country aren’t, but these stereotypes are worth perpetuating in my quest to be remembered as both lazy and ignorant.

The Australian Society for Fish Biology (ASFB) conference is to be hosted in Albany this year. Albany-Wodonga it ain’t, Eastcoasters! This is Albany, Western Australia. Should be as chilly as Albury, and similarly rural. It’ll take some getting to, and will cost you. It’s not in Sydney, Brisbane or Perth. The rich will be on planes, the poor will be on a bus or thumbing it for some of the way. The ASFB beanie will be compulsory.

Now I’ll admit to having been proactive in lobbying for this conference to be held in a country town rather than a big city setting. In the modern era, city venues almost always win out for cost, venue size and swish cafes. I’ve not been to Albany. Not sure what to expect really. And that is half of the thrill. I’ve listened to a number of fish people excited at the prospect of this adventure. I’ve also encountered a handful of sceptics. Hope most of the sceptics are giving it a miss, to be frank. The way I see it you can bundle all these things up and be as negative as you want. Or you can show up and talk fish stuff, science, network and have a great time.

Yep, a great time. I first met some of my favourite people on the planet at ASFB conferences in years gone by. And yes, some of them have even been Western Australians. Political correctness has its merits, if adhered to in moderation.

So if you are coming this year and you are in a positive frame of mind, I hope we cross paths for a chat. As a disclaimer, I can be an opinionative bugger. But my wife loves me. I’m occasionally wrong (no need to check the stats on that my love), however, I’d prefer that none of you point out inconsistencies in my logic at the conference in front of our friends and colleagues. I also request that you refrain from mentioning how busy you are this year.

I can get stressed thinking about milestones and deliverables. They are debilitating those pair. Of late, I find deliverables and milestones are showing up in my life far too regularly. They are at work during the day, and unfortunately they have been showing up out of hours including on weekends. No doubt this is familiar to many of you. And that is my point. At this conference, is there any chance we could all at least pretend that we aren’t busy? Country town rules. Downplay your importance, and downplay your busy, busy working life. At least until we have had a few pints of Little Creatures. Then we can all proclaim how our little fish papers are cutting edge.

In uncharacteristically bold fashion may I suggest that if you are scratching around for material during morning tea and lunch breaks, topics might include: fish, fish science, football of any code, the emergence of netball as a legitimate national code for viewing during prime time in this country, and how cold climates are fine to visit for up to ten days at a time. Later at night, the bigger topics could include Brownlow contention, best student presentation of the day, and why Gary Jackson never seems to age. Being July, the small town v. big city debate should have been left behind in favour of the idea of having a conference in the tropics. Really, where are you southerners coming from? Single digit temperatures.

Anyways, the don’t to say is: “I’ve been so busy”, and the do’s are show up and have a good time. Albany, not sure what to expect, and I can’t wait.

Post Box

Disgruntled letter

Dear Editor,


I do indeed agree that Dr Ryan has done a stellar job of summarizing the annual ASFB jaunt (this year, Hobart).  However, I do question your judgement in publishing it.  

With all due respect, Dear Editor, way to set the bar too high. ‘The lair’ used to be a  friendly, welcoming place where one could park a thought or two, without fear of judgement or ridicule. Now I need to find a new outlet for half-baked ichthyological expression.


No name provided

Email message received: Tue 20/12/2016 3:18 PM


ASFB 2016, Hobart


By Katie Ryan


The ASFB conference has come and gone for 2016 and Sean Tracey, Heidi Pethybridge and the rest of the Tassie organising committee should be really proud of pulling off such a memorable event. This year’s conference broke away from a couple of the conference norms and shook things up a little. It dared us to think about new communication styles. It compelled us to recognise and celebrate diversity. It began some integral conversations about some of the challenges and opportunities ahead. And of course it showcased some awesome research going on throughout the country and provided an opportunity for networks and collaborations to blossom.


ASFB Communications Managers Andrew Katsis reveals the society’s social media habits to Kate Hodges at the welcome drinks.


As the drinks flowed at the Wrest Point Hotel in Hobart to welcome delegates on Sunday night old friends were reunited, new friendships were formed and some pretty serious questions were raised. Like why are marine people using Twitter, while freshwater people are using Facebook? Is this correlated with marine fisho’s being better looking and trendier? Why are fisheries researchers hugging fisheries managers? Who is that other guy with the beard? And where is the waiter with the drinks?


The foyer of the conference venue featured an exhibition of incredible women in ichthyology, which included Alison King.


Even the most intellectually stimulating conversations on Sunday night didn’t prepare anyone for the Monday mornings session of rapid keynote presentation by six incredible women in ichthyology. Kicked off by former ASFB president Bronwyn Gillanders, this session was engaging and inspirational. Weaved within each presentation, on a variety of interesting research topics, were stories of challenges being overcome and opportunities being pursued to build amazing careers in ichthyology. On top of inspirational career journeys and awesome research, these women also had some kick arse communication styles. I’m pretty sure there weren’t many people who headed into that conference thinking about shark brains, but I’m quite certain that anyone who saw Kara Yopak’s amazingly animated and well-presented keynote left Hobart with shark brains still on their minds. This session was concluded with a panel discussion on gender equity in fisheries science, with a variety of important issues being raised by the audience and panel members. Personally, I felt like the Monday morning was an incredible moment in the history of the ASFB, and I think most of us were feeling pretty proud of our society for having this conversation and getting the ball rolling on many more conversations to come. A pat on the back goes to Chris Fulton and each of the panel members for bringing the issue of gender equity to the forefront. And just so you know, the marine folks thought it was pretty good too, with #womeninstem, being tweeted from the conference more than #fish or #shark!



Bronwyn Gillanders giving the first presentation of the conference.


Chris Fulton presents an analysis of the gender and career stage of society members during the gender equity panel discussion.

Tuesday afternoon saw another break with conference norms as ten brave students took to the stage for Student Rapid Fire Oral Presentations. This was the second part of the ASFB’s new Student Communication in Science Competition. The first component had involved students getting their creativity on to produce a 3 minute video highlighting their research prior to the conference (these can be still viewed at At the conference they each had three minutes to tell us about their research (no slides!!). It was exciting to see the students give their short spiel on the main stage, and I think everyone in the audience (were quietly thankful that it wasn’t them up there!) would agree that the students did a great job. Hats off to Steve Beatty, Jordan Matley and Stacy Bierwagen for changing things up and making us all think about how we might improve our capacity to communicate.


Ten brave students took to the stage for the Student Rapid Fire competition



As a reward to those students for being so brave (and all the other delegates) the student mixer happened Tuesday night. The challenge of finding those with a matching species sticker and sharing some embarrassing field stories was a great way to mix it up and meet some new folks. The marine fisho’s seemed to win on the embarrassing stories with revelations of wee and poo related events (not sure they are that trendy after all), but I’m pretty sure some of the freshwater folks must have been being unusually shy on their embarrassing stories (maybe we should be better at #sharing).


The student mixer was a great opportunity to meet some new people.


Melissa Marquez reveals her embarrassing field story at the student mixer. This lady tweeted over 800 times during the conference!



Ben Broadhurst, Steve Beatty and Rhian Clear at the student mixer.



PhD student Alan Couch enjoyed meeting David Bellwood after the student mixer.


In terms of the concurrent sessions that occurred Monday to Wednesday, there was a huge diversity of content presented, from pure research, to social science, to management implications and beyond. It was so good to see some work emerging on incorporating cultural values in fisheries research and management. In fact there were a number of great talks on the social science side of things and the need for multidisciplinary approaches, and to be honest I’m excited by what lies ahead in this space. As with most of my other ASFB experiences, I enjoyed the reminder on the spatial variability across the country. Along with some great talks on the ever advancing knowledge of fish and flows in the southern Murray-Darling Basin, it was interesting to hear Kate Hodges talk about fish movement in disconnected water holes in QLD and their responses to reconnecting flows; and  Alison King talk about the importance of dry-season low flows for fish spawning and recruitment in the tropics; and Steve Beatty talk about the value of dug out fire water points in ephemeral systems as refuges for native fish in south-western Australia. And of course there were many more examples, and probably some great ones that I missed, with the only downside of the conference being some unfortunate overlap in the timing of freshwater talks.


Nathan Clough had a good experience at his first ASFB conference.



Dave Hohnberg giving his talk in the very last session of the conference.


Of course the conference dinner on Wednesday night was great fun. For those of us who didn’t get any extra time in Hobart, the ferry ride along the Derwent to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) was a great chance to view the city whilst enjoying a beverage and some good conversation. At MONA the food was delicious, as was the wine, and the service was excellent. There was a definite feel of celebration in the air, with the energy in the room peaking as the awards were handed out. It was really wonderful to see Bronwyn Gillanders deservingly receive the K Radway Allen Award. And it was pretty special to be sitting on a table with former and current colleagues of Jason Theim when he was announced as winner of the Early Career Excellence award. This was the first ASFB I have been to that Jase wasn’t at, and he was amongst a number of faces missing this year. So amidst the excitement and glory was a little reminder that funding, approvals, time and life (babies for a couple of ASFB ladies this year!!) mean it’s not always easy to get to conferences. But when you do it’s so worth it. So I think it’s the duty of those of us who did get to Hobart to spread the word about how valuable it was. Let’s tell colleagues, bosses, supervisors, partners and anyone who will listen about the networking, the capacity building, the sharing of ideas, the learnings, the motivation, the inspiration, or whatever it was for you. Because I have a feeling that they will shake things up even more in Albany next year, and no one will want to miss it. #pleaseletmegotoASFB2017.


Our transport to dinner.



Stuart Little, Anthony Townsend and John Koehn catch up at the dinner.



The Canberra crew know how to have a good time.






Editor’s note: How good was this write up by Katie. If you can top it, I’d be bloody surprised but feel free to contact me to get next year’s write up opportunity. Thank you Dr Ryan. Top-shelf, indeed.


A spritely Howard Gill, literally gone fishing.

Interviewed by Ebb (October 2016)

Ebb: Welcome good sir, how have you been keeping?

Howard: Bloody great, I love retirement! Have become trailer trash in Augusta, no house to worry about, just have to wear wellies all the time as they reckon it’s the wettest (and coldest) year in forty years down here. It is wet, it is cold but once I move to a new site that isn’t constantly under water (tomorrow) I will be fine. Great fishing too!

Ebb: Howard, our east-coast readers may well be acquainted with your work but may not necessarily have heard your most entertaining accent. Would you mind letting us know a little of your upbringing and country of origin?

Howard: What accent, before her death my mum reckoned I had a dinky-di Aussie accent? Born in Blackburn, at one time a great town – 3 breweries (all good), more pubs per head of population than anywhere else in the world probably, good open-air market etc, etc. Now one brewery making shitehouse beer, most of the small pubs gone for beer barns, market gone. Been voted the worst town in the UK for the last decade or so according to my brother who still lives there. Last time I was there I was returning from work in Canada, two nights was two nights too long.

Ebb: What is your favourite Blackburn Rover’s moment in time?

Howard: Listening to the radio of the last game of the 1994-95 season, Blackburn lost to Liverpool, but United only managed a draw to West Ham and we won the Premier League. With the time delay and starting beers early, I seem to recall that I didn’t go to work the next day. Probably even more beers to celebrate. What a day! Other than that all the days spent at Ewood and following them all over England – even when they were playing awful football, but days with mates made it worth it, well almost.

Ebb: Your PhD was on gobies, care to tell us about the study?

Howard: Started off as an ecological study but found a goby that everyone was calling Favonigobius lateralis, and it obviously wasn’t , so I contacted Barry and Doug who agreed, and apart from the first chapter, which was not an intro but the ecological work, the rest became a taxonomic and systematic thesis. Weird as I always thought taxonomy was for boring old farts. Maybe that’s what I became.

Ebb: Why do you find fish larvae so interesting?

Howard: Pancho I suppose, and they are neat. Especially salamander fish. Spent ages looking for them, couldn’t find them with the usual methods, then needed a pee by the side of the vehicle and looked down in the roadside drain slash pool and saw them sitting on their fins just like adults, neat.


Ebb: And you did quite a lot of work on Lampreys. What is so interesting about these beasts?

Howard: For a craniate 500 million years old and still here, no jaws and still here, beat that! Cool, cool animals, ooh and they taste real good.

Ebb: I’ve asked you to provide us with a photo that you value. Care to tell us why this image is important to you?

howardgrandsoncroppedHoward: One of my grandsons and my bike, love them both. Would have loved to have shown you my other grandson and his bike. Also my grandad either fishing or with his bike, or both, he taught me to love, and respect, fish, fishing and bikes but, in his eyes at least, could unfortunately not teach me to appreciate good scotch – his third love.

Ebb: Wedged between Potter and Morgan, what was that like?

Howard: Absolutely great, I learned a great deal from both of them. Ian gave me my opportunity and taught me about rigour, writing and believing in your convictions. Even if it took me nine years to convince him of some, and longer about cladistics (not sure if he believes now). As far as Morgs, what can I say, he was an undergraduate, honours and Ph.D student of mine but more importantly a friend to me and my family. Couldn’t have asked for better bookends!

Ebb: And I hear rumours you are wetting a line. Where do you fish and what are your fishing rituals now that you have escaped the nine to five?

Howard: I will fish for anything. But my favourites are surface lures for yellow-fin whiting – they shouldn’t do it with that inferior mouth. The other is any jigging, but especially for sambos – love em, pull like a train, eat well (belly flaps raw are supreme) and release well. (See attached paper on why).

Ebb: Whilst I am revered for asking the soft hitting questions, I also try to throw in one that might turn-in-the-rough on a fourth day wicket. Dr Gill, what is your stance on colourful language in the lecture theatre? Are you for or against? (I heard you could captivate the undergrads if the tide was right).

Howard: All for it, and who is Dr Gill? Anything that makes students sit up and listen rather than talk to their mates about what happened on the X-Factor last night is worth doing. I used to give them an answer to a question in their first practical assessment and told them if most got it wrong I would write DICKHEADS across the board in the next practical. It often got wrote, but their next exam was way, way better.

Ebb: If there was one of your papers you recommend the Australian freshwater fish fraternity would read – which one are you most proud of?

Howard: I think the work that I would most want freshwater people to read is Ian’s, Claude’s, Dalal ‘s and my chapter on lampreys in Freshwater Fishes of North America, if you want to know anything about lampreys from evolution to conservation it is a great overview. The other paper, which all fish biologists should read, is our account of the discovery of a new type of swim bladder (I’ve attached it to the email mate).

Ebb: Well thanks for sharing some of what has been a stellar career with fellow fish research folk. Is there any chance we might see a cameo from you at the ASFB conference in Albany, WA next year? Surely an ale and a chat is on the cards there……….

Howard: Sounds like a good idea, when is it, can I give a talk, and how many ales? And off for another few now!


Editor’s note: The details for the paper Howard refers to in this interview are provided below. I highly recommend reading this paper. It is really neat and you can download it from his Researchgate page.
Hughes, J. M., Rowland, A. J., Stewart, J., & Gill, H. S. (2016). Discovery of a specialised anatomical structure in some physoclistous carangid fishes which permits rapid ascent without barotrauma. Marine Biology163(8), 1-12.

Context Counts when it comes to the Eastern Mosquitofish

By Laura Lopez


The Eastern Mosquitofish, Gambusia holbrooki, is one of the most widespread- and reviled- of all invasive species to inhabit Australia (Pyke, 2008). Originally introduced as a biocontrol for mosquitos in the 1920’s, it has turned out that Mosquitofish aren’t any more efficient at consuming the insect’s larvae than many other native fish (Pyke, 2008). So, in a rather familiar story to Australians (ahem, cane toads), we are now tasked with somehow managing a species listed as one of the worst invaders in the world (Pyke, 2008). To continue on this rather depressing note, there is every indication that the consequences of failing to do so are severe, as it has been associated with the decline of nine fish species, amphibians and insects (Howe et al., 1997).


When we consider the geographic range of Mosquitofish in Australia, it’s tolerance to environmental variability is clear. Less clear, however, is whether and how its impacts on native species vary with context. While some research overseas has focused on the effects of Mosquitofish density, temperature and salinity on key interactions, such as predation and competition, with native species (Alcaraz et al., 2008; Mills et al., 2004), less has been done in Australia. Ultimately, identifying the influence of context on the impact of Mosquitofish in Australian waterways will aid their management, particularly when it comes to working out the conditions at which Mosquitofish are most problematic and need to be targeted.


A common and fair assumption about invaders is that with their increasing density a higher impact on the environment occurs. However, in the context of predation, an increase in competitive interactions between invasive predators can accompany a hike in density (Pintor et al., 2009). This means that predators may spend more time interacting with each other than hunting and attacking prey. In the lab, we set out to explore the relationship between Mosquitofish density and time of day (diel cycle) on the lethal and nonlethal effects experienced by a prey, the Glass shrimp, Paratya australiensis.


Berried Glass shrimp tagged with an elastomer, allowing for individual identification

In regards to lethal effects, we observed Mosquitofish to prey upon shrimp, yet the actual rate of predation did not vary between low (1 fish) and high (5 fish) fish densities, or diel cycle, which suggests that interference occurs between fish. When it came to non-lethal effects, shrimp drastically reduced the time they spent swimming (most likely to reduce their vulnerability to predation), and occupied shelters far more. The shift in these behaviors suggests that shrimp may also forage and interact less with reproductive mates in the presence of Mosquitofish, which could significantly lower their fitness. However, the shift in these activities was the same regardless of fish density and diel cycle, indicating that they were responding in proportion to the risk imposed by Mosquitofish. Interestingly, shrimp exposed to both a high density of fish and a high density of shrimp, the control, both increased their foraging activities. Ultimately, what is most notable is that even low densities of Mosquitofish have multiple negative effects on shrimp from direct consumption, causing changes in activity levels and potentially even by competing for food.


(Above) Experimental setup with lurking Mosquitofish and fearful shrimp hiding in shelters.


Tagged shrimp hanging out next to shelters

Along with density, we were also keen to look at the effect of abiotic factors on interactions between Mosquitofish and native species. One of the key mechanisms by which Mosquitofish are supposed to out-compete native species is by aggression, and their fondness for fin nipping is particularly well known (Pyke, 2008). With this in mind, we decided to look at how aggression between Mosquitofish and Australian Bass, Macquaria novemaculeata, fingerlings is influenced by a combination of temperature and salinity – two key factors in freshwater systems. Bass are stocked throughout the Eastern Drainage system as fingerlings to support recreational fishing (Cameron et al., 2012). While adults are predatory, stocked juveniles are often no larger than an adult Mosquitofish and being hatchery-bred, could be naïve to the behaviour of other fish species.


Weighing and tagging an Australian Bass fingerling

We were particularly interested in how a combination of temperature and salinity would influence aggression compared to each stressor alone. While the effect of two stressors can be the sum of both together, it can also be antagonistic (less than additive) or synergistic (greater than additive), which are much harder to predict (Sih et al., 2004). Again in the lab, we measured aggression between Mosquitofish and Bass at four different combinations of 21 °C or 28 °C temperature and 15 ppt or 35 ppt salinity. Like many fish species, both Bass and Mosquitofish were much more aggressive when exposed to 28 °C and low salinity levels of 15 ppt. Interestingly, when we combined elevated temperature with elevated salinity, 35 ppt, their aggression decreased markedly, which suggests that the effect of temperature is dependent on salinity. For both Bass and Mosquitofish, the interaction between temperature and salinity was non-additive, specifically antagonistic. This result confirms the value of considering multiple stressor effects, not just because it provides greater realism in lab experiments, but also because the outcome can be unpredictable.


Pregnant Mosquitofish tagged with an elastomer

Ultimately the impacts of Mosquitofish are complex. Our work provides no simple answers, but instead emphasises the importance of considering context, particularly in lab studies, when trying to understand the mechanisms behind this species’ success.



Alcaraz C, Bisazza A, Garcia-Berthou E, 2008. Salinity mediates the competitive interactions between invasive mosquitofish and an endangered fish. Oecologia 155:205-213. doi: 10.1007/s00442-007-0899-4.

Cameron LM, Baumgartner LJ, Bucher DJ, Robinson W, 2012. Critical Thermal Minima of age-0 Australian bass, Macquaria novemaculeata, fingerlings: implications for stocking programmes. Fisheries Management and Ecology 19:344-351. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2400.2012.00850.x.

Howe E, Howe C, Lim R, Burchett M, 1997. Impact of the introduced poeciliid Gambusia holbrooki (Girard, 1859) on the growth and reproduction of Pseudomugil signifer (Kner, 1865) in Australia. Marine and Freshwater Research 48:425-433. doi: 10.1071/mf96114.

Mills MD, Rader RB, Belk MC, 2004. Complex interactions between native and invasive fish: the simultaneous effects of multiple negative interactions. Oecologia 141:713-721. doi: 10.1007/s00442-004-1695-z.

Pintor LM, Sih A, Kerby JL, 2009. Behavioral correlations provide a mechanism for explaining high invader densities and increased impacts on native prey. Ecology 90:581-587. doi: 10.1890/08-0552.1.

Pyke GH, 2008. Plague Minnow or Mosquito Fish? A Review of the Biology and Impacts of Introduced Gambusia Species. Annual Review of Ecology Evolution and Systematics 39:171-191. doi: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.39.110707.173451.

Sih A, Bell AM, Kerby JL, 2004. Two stressors are far deadlier than one. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 19:274-276. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2004.02.010.


Kate Burndred

A childhood where my Barbie dream holiday pool became an engineered ‘wetland’ to house bugs I collected from the pool filter… well, maybe I hoarded them in there and then harvested them…?

Lazing the days away camped on the Murray, trying to rehabilitate undersized bycatch in little slackwater microcosms… all the while the voice of David Attenborough narrating my playtime.

Fast forward to uni where I was singled out by the late and great Keith Walker – he genuinely re-ignited my curiosity for all things freshwater. He was an incredible mentor, providing consistent support, thought provoking guidance… and an endless string of classic tips for day-to-day ‘scholarly success’. I stuck with him, and ended up with honours in freshwater fish ecology.

I ran away OS for a while, and then scored a job back home with MDFRC. I worked at the local pub as well… so maybe my employment was a strategic choice…

The MDFRC crew further inspired my fascination for native fish, particularly, the teeny tinyness of larvae. More importantly, they taught me that fieldwork could be fun beyond uni, sometimes dangerously so!

Alas, after growing up, studying and working alongside the MDB for what felt like an eternity my spirit was waning. The millennium drought was dire: the darling was dry, the old cod were carking it, an old bloke cradled his gun whilst discussing the generational impacts of poor water management decisions… aaaand I bailed.

I wanted to see if the tropical grass was greener… what was this clear, flowing water that people spoke of? Where fish could frolic freely?! So I landed myself a sweet job as an Aquatic Ecologist in sunny Mackay. Ten years and tens of thousands of kilometres of fieldwork later, the novelty of studying cool stuff in clear, flowing coastal catchments has yet to wear off.

BUT my love for native fish in the bush country still reigns. That’s where my heart is. One day I hope to be out there teaching folk that little fish aren’t just baby big ones, and trying to spark a reason for them to care.

River Murray for Keith Walker

Farewell Keith Walker: ‘Mr Murray’, ‘Mussel Man’, nice guy

Image from


By Michael Hammer & Scotte Wedderburn


Recently we lost one of the greats of Australian limnology, with the unexpected passing of Keith Walker. Keith was a prominent pioneer of river ecology in Australia with a keen focus on the River Murray and the Murray–Darling Basin. Indeed he was often referred to as ‘Mr Murray’. He made a huge contribution to the field directly with his research and through his teaching and mentoring – he inspired many people. We strongly believe that Keith’s contribution to river ecology will continue to benefit the management of the River Murray for decades or even centuries to come.


Keith began his academic career in Melbourne, completing honours with Bill Williams on the ecology of the humble freshwater crab Amarinus (Halicarinus) lacustris.Here, his flair for both the fine scale, bottom-up detail (how a species interacts with its local environment) and top-down understanding (biogeography and landscape dynamics) was first on display (Walker 1969). He continued this superbly throughout his career examining ecosystem processes, especially the influence of river regulation (seminal papers including: Walker 1985; Walker & Thoms 1993; Walker et al. 1995; Walker 2006), while perusing species-level ecological and taxonomic interests, with a view to conservation, especially on freshwater mussels (e.g. Walker et al. 2001; Walker et al. 2014). The title ‘Mussel Man’ is appropriate given this contribution, and was first coined to us during a field trip to the Riverland in South Australia, where the landholders fondly recalled their interactions with an energetic ecologist diving for mussels along the river banks at their property in the 1980s.


Keith was a prolific author who showed distinctive flair and a succinct writing style. He published over 100 journal papers, 37 book chapters and a range of scientific reports. His ResearchGate page is a great read and resource (records a whopping 5000+ citations!), and is now a legacy that will be maintained so that others can continue to access his substantial contribution. Publications were achieved with a wide collaborative network, and countless co-authors were touched with his gift for writing. As a supervisor he encouraged us to ‘think big’, develop lateral and cross-disciplinary approaches, and ‘give it a go’, and always provided meaningful contributions and fast turn-around on drafts of papers or theses. He was very fond of “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White, which he often encouraged his students to read when developing their writing skills. His knowledge and application of statistics in ecology was also profound, having founded the popular undergraduate subject Research Methods in Ecology. Overall Keith’s positive demeanour, enthusiasm, and polite manner were outstanding personal features. At his funeral and in subsequent discussions with colleagues the resounding reflection is just of how nice a guy Keith was, and that memory of him alone is significant.



Research gate page:



Other tributes:





Walker, K. (1969) The ecology and distribution of Halicarcinus lacustris (Brachyura: Hymenosomatidae) in Australian inland waters. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 20, 163-173.

Walker, K.F. (1985) A review of the ecological effects of river regulation in Australia. Hydrobiologia, 125, 111-129.

Walker, K.F. (2006) Serial weirs, cumulative effects: the Lower River Murray, Australia. In:  Kingsford, R. (Ed.) The Ecology of Desert Rivers. Cambridge University Press, pp. 248-279.

Walker, K.F., Byrne, M., Hickey, C.W., & Roper, D.S. (2001) Freshwater mussels (Hyriidae) of Australasia. In: Ecology and Evolution of the Freshwater Mussels Unionoida. Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Walker, K.F., Jones, H.A., & Klunzinger, M.W. (2014) Bivalves in a bottleneck: taxonomy, phylogeography and conservation of freshwater mussels (Bivalvia: Unionoida) in Australasia. Hydrobiologia, 735, 61-79.

Walker, K.F., Sheldon, F., & Puckridge, J.T. (1995) A perspective on dryland river ecosystems. Regulated Rivers: Research and Management, 11, 85-104.

Walker, K.F., & Thoms, M.C. (1993) Environmental effects of flow regulation on the River Murray, South Australia. Regulated Rivers: Research and Management, 8, 103-119.


Editor’s note: Keith’s time on this planet and his contributions to Australian river ecology were indeed one gigantic magic moment. What a top fella.

Kerezsy Cropped

My mate Adam

I want to say that Adam Kerezsy’s winning entry and recent contribution ‘The Therapy Ship’, is one of the more stirring things that has come across my desk as acting editor at the Lair. I also want to publicly thank Adam for everything he did for the Redfin blue-eye over an extended period. I’m not sure if another scientist has clocked up so many miles for a species.

The guy is unquestionably entertaining, and a tireless giver. Loud sure, but the USA doesn’t have the monopoly on the outspoken individual. I am very proud to know Adam as a friend first and a colleague second. The world is definitely a better place for having you in it my friend. I can’t wait for my maiden voyage aboard the Marybelle, one of these days.



5 May 2016

Marybelle on mooring

The Therapy Ship

For me, 2015 was as crap as they come. In fact, it could even be described by short words that have no place on a family site like the Lair. I lost my job. To make matters worse, no-one told me why. Then I suffered the indignity of applying for my job, complete with eight letters of recommendation from colleagues, and didn’t even get a start.

The trouble with jobs like ours is that they’re not just jobs you ‘do’. They’re jobs you eat, sleep and breathe. Mine was looking after red-finned blue-eye, a tiny fish from the springs in western Queensland which is just about kaput, so I was in deeper than most. As a consequence I fell pretty hard. I remember being on the phone to Ebb one day from Warwick, and telling him I felt like I’d lost my identity. It didn’t help that I’d applied for a couple of other jobs and got interviews but no cigar. The feedback from one of the guvvy gigs was that I was ‘too honest’. Yeah right. Maybe being 47 had something to do with it? Maybe looking like Gandalf about to jump on a Harley had something to do with it too? Neither was mentioned. The doctor whacked me on happy pills and said I should leave my guns locked up and my daughter found a psychologist. Like I said – not much of a year.

What do you do when everything unravels so spectacularly? The lyrics from an old Richard Clapton song (for those of us old enough to remember) bounced around in my brain: ‘Get Back To The Shelter’. Luckily I had one.

Adam and Marybelle

Years before I ever became involved with fish, my partner and I moved to the small western NSW town of Lake Cargelligo. Lake’s the back-end of the central-west and the beginning of the far west with a smidgin of Riverina thrown in. It’s crazy. Half Aboriginal, half sheep-and-wheat, with generous dollops of Old Testament religious fundamentalists scattered about for good measure. I’ve loved it ever since. Both of our kids are Lake locals as a result. Back then I was teaching music in all the schools: not a bad way to meet everyone, and luckily for me, most of them were still there 10 years after we dragged the kids to Brisbane and I really needed to – literally – get back to the shelter. Nobody gives a rat’s about PhDs and publications in Lake – they just like familiar faces. Back down the Newell I went, back to our little farm on the northern shoreline. I built and tidied and cultivated. Thankfully we kept it!

Just before Christmas, and I’m guessing just when the pills properly kicked in, my best mate Mick (hasn’t everyone got one?) carted me along to a clearing sale. We used to do it all the time: bid on piles of junk, drag them home, then get chastised for hoarding. Nevertheless, the Marybelle was a really weird thing to find at a clearing sale in the boonies. About 20 feet of glass-over-ply. Displacement hull (I’ve never seen another within several hundred km). A boat someone had obviously dragged all the way to the back county from the coast, sitting on a dodgy customised trailer that had been tricked up to make it happen. We guessed it hadn’t seen the water since it landed in Lake. There were dead things in the cuddy cabin and water in the bilge. No steering. I discussed it with a few mates who are also water people from around the Lake: nah, piece of crap, not worth worrying about was the general verdict.

It was a cheap sale. Most of the junk lots went for two and four dollars. The Marybelle was auctioned towards the end, just before the caravans and cars. Mick reckoned have a bid. He said even if it didn’t float it’d make a good kid’s cubby or ornament. I said I’d go to $300 but that was it, especially given I was pretty-much unemployed. There was only one other bidder – a bloke from Euabalong up on the Lachlan which is even less ‘displacement hull’ than Lake – but he bailed out at $160. Going once, going twice – sold to number 27. The auctioneer winked and shook his head. The description on the docket said ‘deep sea boat’. We waited till the sale dissipated and gingerly dragged the monstrosity two doors back to Mick’s. Ah well – could be fun, just like old times.

On board the Belle Emma and Dad

Emma Kerezsy and Dad on the water

We hooked up a Landcruiser to the Marybelle and the old twin cylinder diesel fired first or second go. You can probably imagine what was exclaimed – again it’s not Lair-friendly. We hosed out the wasp nests and dirt from the intake and the impeller pumped water. Same reaction. I spent a hot afternoon up in the cabin sorting out the drum steering, and Mick welded up a big trailer extension. Then, the moment of truth came on December 30. We found a quiet spot and backed the keel boat into the shallow lake (yeah – we needed every inch of the extension). The Marybelle floated. I clambered in and fired up the putt-putt. The Marybelle chugged to life. We did a ‘town lap’, waving to friends and anyone else who’d wave back, and then we piloted the old boat all the way back to my place and moored her to a stump in the channel. Unbelievable.

The Marybelle hasn’t stopped putt-putting since, and the smile hasn’t left my face. I’ve dragged a few lures from time to time but as yet the ‘Belle is fishless. Doesn’t matter: that’s not what she’s about. The Marybelle’s a ship – not a boat – and I reckon she’s about the only one west of the mountains. So I’ll keep putting for as long as I can, because it’s a bootload better than the alternative.

2015: as crap as they come, but it couldn’t have finished better.