Category Archives: Magic moments

When great things happen.

River Murray for Keith Walker

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

Image from www.destinationriverland.org.au

 

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:

 

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Keith_Walker11

 

 

Other tributes:

 

http://blogs.adelaide.edu.au/environment/2016/03/25/obituary-dr-keith-forbes-walker/

 

https://paulhumphriesriverecology.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/vale-keith-walker/

 

 

References:

 

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.

Dave CrookRoperCropped

Roper River adventure

By David Crook

A field trip in November last year to the remote Roper River estuary reminded me that the best experiences in life often arise from adverse circumstances.

The field trip was part of an acoustic tracking study of barramundi and forktail catfish that myself and Lachie Hetherington (PhD student) from Charles Darwin University are undertaking in collaboration with the NT Department of Land Resource Management and NT Fisheries, with help from the Yugul Mangi indigenous rangers.

The Roper River – which flows into the western Gulf of Carpentaria – is one of the Northern Territory’s few perennial rivers, and has been earmarked as a potential candidate for future water resource development. The aim of our project is to provide information on the movements of barra and catfish in relation to river flow, thus helping water managers to make informed decisions about the potential effects of future water resource development on the ecology of the system.

Prior to our trip to the Roper estuary, the research team had spent three epic weeks in the freshwater reaches catching and surgically implanting transmitters into 80 barra and 20 catfish, as well as installing an array of 26 acoustic receivers. We were “forced” to catch the fish by angling because the conductivity of the system is too high for the NT Fisheries electrofishing boat to work effectively. We had a nice shady camp and a place to take a quick dip in the river without fear of being eaten by one of the local lizards. However, the “build-up” weather was very hot and humid and the days long and tiring. As much as I love my fishing, I’d had enough of chucking lures for barra by the end of the three weeks (gladly, this was a temporary condition, resolved immediately upon my return home).

With the fish tagged and the freshwater acoustic array installed, the next step was to cover the estuary with receivers before the wet season rains arrived. We had 12 of the new acoustic release receivers from Vemco to install and the aim was to place one every 10-15 km along the 150 km of river and estuary below Roper Bar. We set off early on a hot and sunny day in November from the boat ramp at Ngukurr (an aboriginal community 30 km downstream of Roper Bar). Chris Errity from Fisheries was skippering the NT Fisheries boat with Lachie and myself on-board. Clarry (the head ranger) and two other Yugul Mangi Rangers were leading the way in their boat.

Dave CrookRoper

Our plan was to travel the 120 km from Ngukurr to the estuary mouth – a journey we estimated would take about 3.5 hours. Once there, we would have time for a quick fish (during our lunch break of course) and then return back upstream dropping the receivers in as we went. Two and a half hours into the journey and about 30 km from our destination, all was going to plan. I was enjoying the scenery and beginning to doze off to the thrum of the outboard. Chris was following the rangers as they adroitly avoided hazardous rock bars.

Suddenly, the thrum of the engine became a whine and very rapidly a disturbing squeal. Chris stopped the boat and it was immediately apparent that we were in a spot of bother – out of nowhere we had a blown gearbox. A few expletives followed, but I must say that we all remained pretty calm. Thankfully, the rangers had been keeping an eye out and turned around quickly to see why we had stopped. Given the situation, it was decided that the only course of action was to continue towards Port Roper[1], with the rangers towing our boat the remaining 30 km.

Now, covering 30 km under tow is a slow and boring process, even with the advantage of wonderful scenery. It took us another three hours to reach Port Roper. It was with great relief that we all sat in the roasting sun to eat our lunch beside the tree-less boat ramp. The issue now was what to do next. We had done plenty of calculations on the amount of fuel required for the trip. However, this did not include spending three, fuel-guzzling hours towing another boat. The rangers’ boat now did not have enough fuel to return to Ngukurr. Of course our boat still had heaps of fuel, all locked up safely in the under-floor tank and completely useless to us.

Fortunately, Chris knew one of the local crabbers (Vu Van Nguyen) and was able to borrow 100 L of fuel to save our bacon. Although it was now mid-afternoon and a long way back to Ngukurr, we decided to do what we came to do and get the receivers in the water. All fuelled up, I jumped in the rangers’ boat and we headed 10 km further downstream to the estuary mouth to deploy five of the receivers. By now the sea breeze had kicked in big time. Rather than deploying the receivers in the calm morning conditions as planned, we got smashed by huge waves. Still, at least some receivers were finally in the water.

I was then dropped back at the boat ramp where the plan was for Lachie and I to mind the disabled boat at Port Roper until Chris could get back to pick us up. Chris’ journey involved a 4 hour return boat trip to Ngukurr with the rangers (dropping off the remaining receivers as he went), followed by another 3 hours of driving on dirt roads at night back to Port Roper. He also had to grab a feed and 100 L of fuel to pay back Vu. Given the stifling heat, increasing numbers of midges and impending darkness, I wasn’t looking forward to 8 hours of waiting around at the exposed boat ramp until Chris returned. I didn’t even have a book to read!

At this point, our luck changed for the better. Vu came down to the boat ramp in his old Landcruiser and asked if we’d like to come up to his shack for dinner and a few beers. Of course we very happily agreed and within a few minutes were kicking back with icy-cold cans of XXXX Gold. Absolute bliss! I was now starting to think that Chris had definitely got the rough end of the deal.

From the outside, Vu’s corrugated iron shack on the river bank looked pretty dodgy. However, once inside it was really well set-up and surprisingly cool. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening chatting with Vu and his wife, and enjoyed a superb Vietnamese dinner. Vu came to Australia from Vietnam as a refugee in the 1970s and has been fishing commercially ever since. His knowledge of mud crabs and the Northern Territory was amazing, and he was very interested in the sort of research we were doing. It was one of those great experiences that don’t come along too often, and I felt very privileged to have had the chance to spend time talking with Vu in this unique setting.

At about 11 pm, Chris pulled up outside the shack after his epic journey. We thanked Vu and returned his fuel, then headed to the boat ramp to pick up the boat. Getting the boat back on the trailer without the motor (in the dark, in crocodile infested waters) had its moments, not helped by the fact that the winch had broken on the corrugated roads into Port Roper. Somehow we managed and were just about to hit the road when another vehicle showed up and started to launch their boat. I couldn’t believe it. Out in the middle of nowhere at 11:30 pm, these guys just pulled up ready to go fishing. The lengths people will go to chasing barra is astounding!

After another three hours of corrugations, we finally arrived at our accommodation at Roper Bar at 2:30 am, totally exhausted. After everything that had happened, I now look back and think about the awesome experience of that day. Our epic boat trip down the beautiful Roper River, all new to me. Lunch on the banks of the river with the indigenous rangers, talking about their spectacular country. Hanging out with Vu in his shack with cold beer, a delicious dinner and great conversation. Getting the work done despite the challenges. Sharing this all with great colleagues.

Just another day at the office? Hardly!

 

[1] Port Roper is located about 10 km from the mouth of the Roper River estuary. If you are envisaging a scene of bustling activity with ships, cranes and wharves, think again. Port Roper is a boat ramp and a handful of fishing shacks.

Covershot

Rotenone key in wiping out aquatic pest

By Dale McNeil

Picture1 Speckled Livebearer 

A Speckled livebearer Phalloceros caudimaculatus removed from Willunga creek on South Australia’s McLaren Vale.

Two separate reports of a “strange fish” captured in the heart of South Australia’s wine country led to an investigation by scientists from the SA Research and Development Institute (SARDI). Follow up surveys verified the establishment of a new aquatic pest for the State, the speckled livebearer Phalloceros caudimaculatus. SARDI scientists and managers from Biosecurity SA, the EPA and the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board joined forces to wipe out this new infestation.

Picture2Dale Electrofishing

Too many to zap! Early investigations revealed abundant and widespread populations of the pest throughout the creek.

After a rapid but thorough consultation process including EPA and veterinary regulators, and preliminary scientific investigations, rotenone treatment was employed along several kilometres of stream running through agricultural and urban land in the picturesque Maclaren Vale. Follow up surveys for the past four years have verified that all pest fish have been removed during initial and rapid follow up spot treatments using rotenone. Dosage rates were tailored to the highly tolerant pest fish after tolerance trials were conducted by SARDI. The treatment also removed all pest carp (Cyprinus carpio), the only other species present.

Picture3 Rotenone

Rotenone mixing and application into Phalloceros habitat in Willunga Creek. Flowing runs and riffles, pools, subterranean drainpipes, trickles, front yards, back yard fishponds, dams and reed beds were all treated to complete the eradication.

Following treatment and follow up surveys, native mountain galaxias (Galaxias olidus) from the neighbouring tributary were translocated into the reach by the Local children at Willunga Primary School. Tadpoles, yabbies, frogs and turtles were removed prior to treatment and kept in aquaria before being returned to site following treatment.

Picture4_Olidus

Native Galaxias olidus ready to move next door to the treated tributary thanks to the children of Willunga Primary School.

With a principal threat to native fish now removed, other restoration activities s are free to proceed with less risk of failure. As part of a consultative partnership between local community, scientists, Biosecurity and Natural Resource Managers, rotenone treatment was an efficient and effective method of meeting State and regional management targets stating that new aquatic pest species will not be allowed to establish in South Australian catchments. Rotenone is a key part of this great success story and is one of the principal tools for maintaining and restoring native fish populations and abolishing aquatic pests.

 

Bibliography

Kerezsy, A., and Fensham, R. (2013). Conservation of the endangered redfinned blue-eye, Scaturiginichthys vermeilipinnis, and control of alien gambusia, Gambusia holbrooki, in a spring wetland complex. Marine and Freshwater Research 64, 851–863.

Lintermans M. (2000). Recolonization by the mountain galaxias Galaxias olidus of a montane stream after the eradication of rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss. Marine and Freshwater Research, 51, 799–804.

McNeil D.G., Wilson P.J. (2008). The speckled livebearer (Phalloceros caudimaculatus): A new alien fish for South Australia. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. pp. 29 Publication number: F2008/000939-1. SARDI Research Report Series No. 316.

McNeil, D.G., Westergaard, S. and Hartwell, D (2010). Preliminary investigations into the control of speckled livebearers (Phalloceros caudimaculatus). Report to Primary Industries and Resources South Australia – Biosecurity. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. SARDI Publication No. F2010/000306-1. SARDI Research Report Series No. 452. 29p.

McNeil, D.G., Thwaites L. and Westergaard, S. (2013). Effective Eradication off Speckled livebearer (Phalloceros caudimaculatus) from South Australia following establishment in Willunga Creek. Report to Biosecurity SA. South Australian Research and Development Institute, West Beach.

Rayner T.S. and Creese R.G. (2006). A review of rotenone use for the control of non-indigenous fish in Australian fresh waters, and an attempted eradication of the noxious fish, Phalloceros caudimaculatus. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 40, 477-486.

 

Tag implant Dave Wood

Playing surgeon

By David Wood

Acoustic and radio tracking of fish is a common tool used by fish scientists. With it you can do some pretty cool studies; range and habitat affinity, large and small scale movement patterns, the possibilities are only restricted by your imagination (and depending on your imagination; technology). While this is all well and good, I have decided that there is an added bonus to the whole process and that is getting to be an ‘honorary’ surgeon.

Upon getting into the world of acoustic tracking, I visited and talked to many people which included watching the process firsthand. I also found and watched a few videos on how to perform surgery and even pulled some fish out of the freezer to have a few trial runs. All was ready.

My first live patient was a small Carp whom we named Pluto. I placed him in the anesthetising solution and monitored him closely. Unfortunately it is somewhat difficult to practice anesthetising dead fish and getting the concentration correct and then knowing when the fish has entered the right state of consciousness is critically important. Eventually Pluto was deemed ready and relocated to the surgery table. As far as I can recall the surgery went smoothly and Pluto was let go in the recovery tub with a brand new V9 acoustic transmitter and a new scar that he could show off to his mates.

Surgery Dave Wood

Completing surgery on a Carp.

Fifteen minutes later Pluto showed no sign of recovery, an indication that he had spent too long in the anaesthetic. I spent another half an hour nursing him, trying to get water and oxygen moving though his gills. It was a slow process and recovery occurred in monumentally small increments. Many times I lost hope that Pluto was going to recover at all and came close to retrieving our acoustic tag but I didn’t want to see my first attempt as a failure. When I moved Pluto from the oxygenated recovery tub to the lake water he showed a bit more life, so with a few prayers (to whomever would listen), I watched him wobble off. Was this going to work? Had I just wasted my time and a tag worth a few hundred dollars on a fish that was as good as dead?

We had another 47 Carp to tag for the project and things went smoothly after the learning curve that was Pluto. A month later we went out and downloaded some of our receivers to make sure everything was functioning fine and see how many of our fish had retained their tags or survived the operation. Was Pluto there? I found his tag number and matched it up with the downloaded data and bingo! A whole bunch of hits over that first month on different receivers! I had never be so happy to see a Carp survive. I guess this proved a few things, but most of all how tough Carp really are.

Tag implant Dave Wood

Inserting a V9 acoustic tag into a Carp.

Three months after being released I am happy to report that Pluto, as well as of plenty of his mates are still alive and swimming around in the Hattah Lakes providing us with data.

For more information on this project visit:

http://www.mdfrc.org.au/projects/featured/Hattahtracking.asp

 

For more information on fish tagging, surgery and welfare these are worth a look:

Steven J. Cooke , Vivian M. Nguyen , Karen J. Murchie , Jason D. Thiem, Michael R. Donaldson , Scott G. Hinch , Richard S. Brown & Aaron Fisk (2013) To Tag or not to Tag: Animal Welfare, Conservation, and Stakeholder Considerations in Fish Tracking Studies

That Use Electronic Tags, Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy, 16:4, 352-374, DOI: 10.1080/13880292.2013.805075

Brown, R. S., S. J. Cooke, G. N. Wagner, and M. B. Eppard. 2010. Methods for Surgical Implantation of Acoustic Transmitters in Juvenile Salmonids — A Review of Literature and Guidelines for Technique. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District, Portland, Oregon.

Marine and Freshwater Research: Tagging for Telemetry of Freshwater Fauna, 2009, Volume 60, Number 4, CSIRO publishing.

 

Editor’s note: Thanks Dave for taking the time to write about your successes with telemetry tagging. The Mildura MDFRC lab seems to punch above their weight at the Lair.

Pillie_Ro9adside

The Pilchard

By Ebb

 

At the outset I’ve got to confess that I am not a car person. For many of you that love knowing every possible make of four-wheel drive or two-wheel-drive for that matter, I am not the one to strike up such a conversation with at a BBQ. That is one of the few times I’ll go quiet or shy of the chat (superannuation and penalty rates being among other such topics of disinterest). However, credit where it is due. I am rather fond of Pilchard, my trusty little Suzuki Grand Vitara (2001 Model).

PIllie Bloomfield

The ‘Pilchard’ out for a stroll in the Bloomfield River catchment

She was named following a 2000 km round trip from Mareeba to the Leichardt River, with visiting scientist and co-pilot Olaf Mecynecke back in May 2010. We were looking to do some baited camera surveys for sawfish and stingrays in the Leichardt and had caught word that the turbidity was dropping and the visibility on the improve. I had just purchased a massive blue esky from Bunnings and some how wedged it in the back section of the little white vehicle. We chocked the esky with some custom block ice, ten bags of pilchards, a 5 kg box of prawns and an equivalent serve of mullet.

Our mission leader was Stirling Peverell in some super big four-wheel drive with winches, bull bars, Engel, shower, toilet and games room. However, after a ten-hour drive through the dust and flanked by the odd graceful wedge-tailed eagle, we arrived to find about 15 cm visibility in the drink. So the next day Olaf and I did the boomerang back to Mareeba as my visitor was here to trial baited cameras and clearly the Leichardt was not keen to play fair. Stirling was left to weave his sawfish magic with Jamie Seymour and the ever-present camera crew.

During the return trip from the Leichardt it must have dawned on Olaf that I was good company for 45 minutes to maybe an hour tops. And so we had ample time to consider our next move. We then set about hatching a plan to get to a clear water river. Our choice was Harvey Creek in the Wet Tropics. Ever-reliable Harvey. By the time we got back to Mareeba something was amiss. The first problem had been Mother Nature, water clarity sub-par excellence. The second problem, was all on me.

Not doing any harm to the stereo-type of an absent-minded scientist, I had forgotten the bung on the new esky. Sure you hear of people forgetting the bung for the boat when launching at the boat ramp ¾a timeless classic. But the bung from an esky cocktail comprising 15 kg of bait in an ice slurry; these are good times, perhaps the best of times.

The fieldwork at Harvey Creek went well and recently the work was published (shameless self promotion yet again). I scrubbed the carpet and the interior of my car. My children did not get in that vehicle for about two and a half months, preferring to walk to school if push came to shove. And that children, is how Pilchard was born.

BaitsBRUVs

The baited camera cocktail of pilchard, mullet and prawn equally at home on the deck of the ‘Dirty Worm’ (my boat) as it is oozing through the interior of the luxury field vehicle ‘The Pilchard’.

 

Reference

Ebner, B. C., Fulton, C. J., Donaldson, J. A., Cousins, S., Mecynecke, J-O., Schaffer J. & Kennard, M. J. (2015). Filming and Snorkelling as Mobile Visual Techniques to Survey Tropical Rainforest Stream Fauna. Marine and Freshwater Research 66,120–126.

Acting editor’s note: Having come close to death in the Pilchard on the Kuranda Range I can vouch for Ebb’s trusty little truck. Allswell

Picture10

By-catch……or just a little curious?

By Iain ‘Listy’ Ellis and Dave Wood

For us fisho’s, the focus of our work is usually of the finned kind. Fish that is, and regular visitors to this site will have noticed a common theme to the articles on this site – they are mostly about fish. However, to catch those fish we employ a range of sampling techniques that also capture other aquatic or semi-aquatic creatures. We refer to these creatures as “by-catch”, and they may tell us as much about the waterbody under investigation as the target fishes, because:

  1. Fish may eat them,
  2. They may eat fish,
  3. They may eat people (I’m thinking of you top end fisho’s here and those big scaly things with sharp teeth)

So we thought we’d take five minutes to list a few of the creatures, both common and not-so-common, that we have come across as by-catch in our part of the world (the lower Murray-Darling Basin). We’ve included some pics for those of you who don’t like reading too many words. Please note that fisho’s are legally required (with good reason), to employ measures that minimise the risk of death to by catch in our sampling routine – such as fixing the ends of nets above the waterline for air-breathing things, or regular checking of equipment to remove by-catch. We at the Morays Lair endorse these precautionary measures in the interests of biodiversity and good practice. What we’d love to see follow this article is some funky by-catch pics from other interested nerds working across this big southern dust-bowl – so please send them to the Moraiys Lair. We can score them 1-10 in terms of intrigue, and if you get a 10 before June 30 you win a shirt!

Picture1 Fig. 1 Freshwater shrimps/prawns – sometimes lots of them.

 Picture2 Fig. 2 Other waterbugs – lots of water bugs. So many waterbugs sometimes. So many.

Picture3Fig. 3 Plankton – They are fish food to most of us fisho’s. Sometimes equally interesting are the strange prickly little scientists that study these strange prickly little creatures (invertebrate ecologists).

Picture4 Fig. 4 Yabbies and Spiny crayfish – mind your fingers.  

 Picture5 Fig. 5 Turtles – we get three species out here. One of these (Eastern long-necked) likes nothing more than urinating on the people trying to free them from a fyke net. Never smelt turtle pee? We recommend you don’t if you can avoid it.

Picture6Fig. 6 Frogs/tadpoles – always good company.

Picture7Fig. 7 Birds of a feather – ducks in this case but occasionally we get other water birds. One bloke once told us he caught an emu in a gill net. We don’t believe him.

Picture8Fig. 8 Water Rats – most the time these guys actually chew their way out, so actually seeing them is a highlight.

Picture9 Fig. 9 Snakes – I know I’m an environmentalist and all that, but I hate these things. They should by law be bright orange and have bells attached (Listy).

Picture10Fig. 10 Other rarities – believe it or not! That’s Dave and Chippy with the sheep, and Taylar and Braeden, on deck.

Editor’s note: Does the disrespect for macroinvertebrate ecologists come from the authors working on giant fish such as the Murray hardyhead or has this superiority complex evolved from deeper issues?

Picture5MH

Rain in the desert….

Picture1ABMHammer

The Todd River in Alice Springs; in flood on the 8th January 2015 (Photo Bridget May), and its normal dry self just two weeks earlier (MH)

Why did the fish cross the road? My cheeky kids informed me it was because the chickens were too wet! I’d just received an iPhone photo from a reporter in Alice Springs, an amazing right-place right-time shot of a pair of Spangled Perch navigating a road crossing on a tributary to the Todd River. The arid interior had over the last week received a widespread rain dump in the order of 100-200 millimetres; this had leaked down from the northern monsoon as a new year’s treat. These rare events (typically every few years but up to ten or so years apart) signal flash flooding over hundreds of kilometres of normally dry streams and rivers. The Todd which runs through the heart of Alice Springs ran a ‘banker’ following the rain, cutting the town in half for a couple of days. Just two weeks earlier I had visited Alice and observed with interest the dry river bed who’s trees and bushes were on a permanent slant from occasional flood force trauma, and remember thinking I wonder how many years it would be before it would be flowing again…

Picture2MhammerArtcleSpanglersSwimmingSpangled Perch crossing the road near Alice Springs (Photo Jessica Brown)

 

Picture3MHBoMFigure_Spangler

Map of recent rainfall across Central Australia (BoM) and a Spangled Perch from the Barkly Tablelands (MH)

The reporter who had spotted the perch crossing the road, like many that come across fish in the desert, marvelled at the presence and tenaciousness of these little guys. Spangled Perch Leiptherapon unicolor a non-grunting member of the grunter family Teraponitdae (aka Bobby Cod, Perch or Spangs – see Iain Ellis’s great article hyperlink) are a truly remarkable fish. They occur in almost every permanent or semi-permanent waterhole across inland Australia and are fast swimmers, needing only a small amount of water to travel vast distances across the desert. I occasionally field public and media queries about rains of fishes involving Spangled Perch, where they were purportedly sucked up by a storm from a waterhole and released at some unassuming site far from a river. While we can’t rule these scenarios out,given the species’ amazing swimming ability its most plausible that they swim to the areas where they are observed (how a marine mullet came to be on the roof of my suburban Darwin home, however is another matter).

The Spangled Perch is the only native fish known from the Todd River catchment, but a much richer fauna is found in the larger Finke Catchment running parallel to the west. Nine species, including three found nowhere else (Finke Hardyhead, Finke Purple-spotted Gudgeon and Finke Goby) are spread along the ~600km of river (albeit only as occasional residents in the lower reaches), beginning in the spectacular WestMacDonnell Ranges then heading southeast towards Lake Eyre. The Finke loop is a great day trip from Alice Springs to see the Finke River at a couple of sites including four-wheel-driving along the river to Palm Valley, and at waterholes like Ellery Creek Big Hole where you can quietly observe some of the local native fish going about their business.

I must be good luck as far a desert precipitation goes, as it rained on my last sojourn to the desert too, as part of a Bush Blitz Species Discovery Expedition hunting for fish along the central Finke River and West MacDonnell Ranges. This was not flooding rain, but enough to refresh refuge waterholes, and to make station tracks turn to mud leaving us immobilised for few days. Seeing burrowing frogs materialise and claypans come to life with ancient looking shield shrimps more than made up for it though. On this trip I was fortunate to be able to access some remote sites by helicopter, which gave a great perspective on how much dry riverbed is out there, and how important the occasional refuge waterholes is between the flood times.

Picture4MHShiledShrimps Various claypan invertebrates including Shield Shrimp which burst into life after desert rain (MH)

 

Michael is the Curator of fishes at the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin [email protected]

 

Further reading

Allen GR, Midgley SH, Allen M (2002) Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia, CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.

Bostock BM, Adams M, Austin CM & Laurenson LJB (2006) The molecular systematics of Leiopotherapon unicolor (Günther, 1859): testing for cryptic speciation in Australia’s most widespread freshwater fish. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 87, 537–552.

Ellis, I (2014). Species profile: Spang, Leioptherapon unicolor (Günther, 1859). www.themorayslair.org/spang-leioptherapon-unicolor-gunther-1859, accessed January 2015.

Kerezsy A, Balcombe SR, Tischler M & Arthington AH (2013) Fish movement strategies in an ephemeral river in the Simpson Desert, Australia. Australian Journal of Ecology 60, 45–57.

Unmack PJ (2001) Fish persistence and fluvial geomorphology in central Australia. Journal of Arid Environments, 49, 653–669.

Unmack PJ (2013) Biogeography. In Ecology of Australian Freshwater Fishes. Eds P Humphries and K Walker. CSIRO Press, Melbourne.

Wager R & Unmack PJ (2000) Fishes of the Lake Eyre Catchment of Central Australia. Department of Primary Industries and Queensland Fisheries Service, Brisbane.

Whitley GP (1972) Rains of fishes in Australia. Australian Natural History, 17, 154–159.

Braeden Wade Lampard

The story of a wild-haired, bright clothed kid heading to his first Conference

By Braeden Lampard

 

In June 2014, Darwin hosted the first combined congress for the Australian Society for Fish Biology (ASFB) and the Australian Society for Limnology (ASL). When told I could attend and present a poster I was quite excited and had a bubbly feeling in my stomach for a couple of reasons. It was the first time I had been to Darwin, the first conference I had been to, and first poster I have ever presented. I didn’t quite know what to expect being my first conference, but I was pleasantly surprised on the first day (when Scott Huntley and I were mingling between the groups of attendees) with the interest that came from other people regarding MDFRC and the projects that we work on.

The main highlight for me was the social aspect – having the opportunity to meet and greet people who work in the same field as me and learn of the projects they work on, and having the chance to see the new technology that is emerging in our field of science. One example of this was Craig Boyes who presented ‘Defining downstream fish passage guidelines for the protection of fish in the Murray-Darling basin’ which looked at the forces (and therefore stresses) exerted on a sensor ‘fish’ when passed through a structure such as an undershot weir. This really hit home for me as I had recently been working on the Hattah Fish Pumps project and we knew that some fish where being chopped up. I hadn’t personally considered the pressure or the stress on the fish that survived the passage through the pumps. After his presentation, I thought it would be a good opportunity to bail him up and talk to him more about his project and the technology he used – which I found very beneficial.

Surprising to me, throughout the conference it was quite easy to approach researchers for a chat because of the relaxed easy going atmosphere, and it encouraged me to contribute a little in question sessions. Presenting the Murray hardyhead poster also gave me a good opportunity to work on my limited presenting skills, and provided a background on what is in involved in making a scientific poster and the amount of effort that goes into one. While attending the poster session it provided a good opportunity to look at what made a quality poster and what didn’t – which will help in the future.

Iain encouraged Scott and I to attend the annual general meeting for ASFB which is held at lunch during the conference, as it would be good way to see the background of the society. As it turns out the Alien Fishes committee was in danger of being dissolved as no one could commit to running it (as convenor) for the next year. I thought it could be something I could take on after talking to David Morgan (a West Aus fish guru) about the role and responsibilities. Although scary for someone at my early stage of career, there have been many benefits to filling the role of convenor (Alien fishes committee, ASFB) including broadening my network of contacts in freshwater research, improving on my limited writing skills and learning a whole lot more about alien fishes in a very short time. There have been some big hurdles too, but my colleagues have been by my side helping me all the way.

Overall the conference was very beneficial and I have noticed improvements in my capabilities since attending (such as considering application of new technologies). I have also noticed improvement in my writing skills as I collate and summarise information for the alien fishes committee.

I want to thank MDFRC for permitting my attendance at the joint congress – no words can describe how thankful I am for the opportunities have been given me so far in my career at MDFRC. I will keep trying to use the skills that I have learnt from the presentations and the talks that I had with fellow researchers at ASFB.

BUTLER-gavin-190x250Cropped

Video killed the cod mystery

By Ebb and Scott Hardie

The first presentation that Gav Butler gave on the use of underwater video at an Australian Society for Fish Biology annual conference was a cracker. It was the single most exhilarating freshwater talk I (Ebb) have experienced at an ASFB session (having attended about 15 of the past 20 such events). At the society congress in Darwin this year, Scott Hardie mentioned to me that he was equally impressed by that same talk several years ago, and these are some of our recollections…

GavButlerShoreBasedCamera

The above water business of a shore-mounted camera system used to perve on Eastern freshwater cod (Photo courtesy of Dr Gavin Butler).

What I (Scott) remember was that this Butler fella experienced some technical difficulty in getting the damn thing to play (as was the norm rather than the exception with any talk relying on playing a segment of video in those days). Because of this, I thought it was a brave thing to have a crack at while the spotlight was shining brightly. Turned out to be well worth the effort though. I’m pretty sure it was in my neck of the woods in Hobart in 2006 (any thoughts Ebb?). A few things stood out to me about this presentation. Firstly, I was envious of his ability to get footage of reproduction in action, having worked on fish in highly turbid water for several years, where getting this type of information was simply impossible! Secondly, there was a huge WOW factor associated with the footage – it had obvious appeal to fishos who were seeking to understand what the hell goes on when fish breed, but maybe even more importantly this type of info could be used as an invaluable communication tool for stakeholders and general punters. It certainly opened my eyes to what could be done with underwater video… if a picture is worth a thousand words, this was a machine gun!

BUTLER-gavin-190x250

The wiley Gav Butler

Above all else, what we both recall was that it was inspirational, with the camera rolling and some stellar footage. The cavernous rock grottos covered in pearls, and a big cod aggressively guarding its nest against a persistent eel. The radio-tracking era was well underway by that stage, and larval sampling in the Murray-Darling Basin was off to a start. However, what was unfolding before our eyes in that talk was the beginning of another trick for the trade, a new way of doing freshwater fish ecology: filming fish behaviour in the field. And for all that we knew of the Maccullochella, here was the first evidence that freshwater cod guard not only their eggs but also the early post-hatch phase larvae. To be having a beer in Darwin and come to the conclusion independently of the same magic moment, well we think that’s just Jim Dandy.

Further reading:

Butler, G. L., and Rowland, S. J. (2009). Using underwater cameras to describe the reproductive behaviour of the endangered eastern freshwater cod Maccullochella ikei. Ecology Freshwater Fish 18, 337–349.

Ben_Fryse Fyke Netting

Fishway frolics and a high five

By Ben Broadhurst

Cover image – Ben Broadhurst (left) and Rhian Clear (right) pulling fyke nets during a fish survey on the Cotter River (Photograph Lynda Coulson see http://lyndacoulson.com.au/).  

Magic moments, the stuff we work for. I’ve been lucky enough to share a few over the journey so far. This magic moment occurred on a November day back in 2006. Myself and Rhian Clear (Frysie) had been conducting snorkelling surveys of the Cotter River to the west of Canberra looking for larvae and juvenile Macquarie perch. So far we had recorded a number of these in the first few pools immediately upstream of the Cotter Reservoir, which is a known strong hold of this endangered species. The pools immediately upstream of the reservoir were thought to be be important spawning locations by the presence of early juveniles observed snorkelling by Brendan Ebner & his team in 2001/2002. That year a fishway was installed some 6km upstream of the reservoir to provide Macquarie perch access to a further20-odd kilometres of stream in the hope that they would surmount the previously impassable road crossing and establish in the river upstream. Initial surveys failed to detect the presence of Macquarie perch above the fishway, despite all measurements and design characteristics suggesting that the fishway would be passable. Some years went by until a few observations of Macquarie perch upstream of the fishway started to trickle in, mostly by anglers, but one by a researcher in Brendan’s new team, a bloke who puts the “i” in team, literally (Jason Thiem). Spurred on by this, Brendan and myself set about designing a robust snorkelling technique to survey the river from the reservoir to a few kilometres upstream of the fishway to determine if indeed Macquarie perch had used the fishway to gain access to the river upstream to breed. Anyway, I digress (I’ve noticed a few of us on the Lair have digressive tendencies), on a nice November afternoon myself and Rhian were in the 3rd last pool of the day, when I noticed a very small larval fish. I promptly scooped up the little fish and placed it in a jar of river water. It didn’t have a forked tail, so that ruled out any of the likely exotics, leaving only Macquarie perch and Two-spined blackfish (common throughout the river). Somewhat buoyed by the prospect of discovering larval Macquarie perch several kilometres upstream of the fishway, we retained the specimen for further examination back at the lab (which was ultimately inconclusive).

Our next fortnightly snorkelling trip couldn’t come soon enough. In the second pool upstream of the fish way (some 1.5 km upstream), we hit the jackpot. Not one miserly little indiscriminate larval fish, but hordes of early juvenile Macquarie perch! There they were, buzzing about, predating upon microinverts, darting to and from cover in and out of the flow in the headwaters of each pool. In some pools, large schools of larvae hung in the water column hugging steep rock faces, moving deeper upon approach. They had done it! These placid, patient, beautiful native fish had pushed though the fishway, well up river and got their jiggy on! I’m pretty sure I even got a high-five out of Frysie that day, one of very few ever given as he is not keen on unnecessary physical contact. That day we recorded larvae or early juvenile Macquarie perch in 11 of the 13 pools we snorkelled upstream of the fishway (spanning 3.5 km). Certainly a research highlight, one that I’ll never forget!

Ben Fryse Snorkeling

Ben Broadhurst (foreground) and Rhian Clear (background) conducting a snorkelling survey for larval and juvenile Macquarie perch in the Cotter River (Photograph: Mark Jekabsons).

Since that day, regular sampling by fyke nets and backpack electro-fishing have detected several age classes of Macquarie perch present in the river upstream of the fishway indicating that this population had colonised this newly accessible part of the range that had been taken from them. This success has also resulted in the fishway being repaired by flood damage on two occasions and another fishway being built further up the catchment.

 

Further reading:

Broadhurst B., Ebner B., Clear R. (2012) A rock-ramp fishway expands nursery grounds of the endangered Macquarie perch Macquaria australasica. Australian Journal of Zoology 60: 91–100.

Broadhurst B.T., Ebner B.C., Lintermans M., Thiem J.D., Clear R.C. (2013) Jailbreak: A fishway releases the endangered Macquarie perch from confinement below an anthropogenic barrier. Marine and Freshwater Research 64: 900–908.

Ebner, B., and Lintermans, M. (2007). Fish passage, movement requirements and habitat use for Macquarie perch. Final report to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Australia. Parks, Conservation and Lands, Canberra.