Category Archives: Perspectives

Some deep thinking.

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.


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.

Ebb SnorkellingIMGP1849

How much field time is needed for the soul?

Drafted by Ebb early 2016

For me, as is no doubt the case for many of you, there is a lot of benefit to getting out and into the field. The splendour of sunlight soaking through the skin, contrasting weeks on end in the office; and the cherry on top in seeing actual, real fish swimming. Where previously, too much office time had these fish things shaped as a fusion of pixels, a simulation of what may represent fish. At worst faded memories of whether I am still a fish ecologist, buried under paperwork stamped with grant pre-proposal, animal ethics reports overdue. Sure there is science, entering data, whipping up a graph or three, and maybe writing a report canvassing how many of them we caught or didn’t catch on a trip from last year. Through the grind there is no doubt for me, that field time is good for the soul, but is it necessary?

If you are a field scientist or technician you may be blissfully unaware of the office dungeon, flitting in now and then to recharge some electro-fishing batteries or to mend the odd net. Using these rendezvous as an opportunity to gloat to the administrative officer or mid-level manager, your life is a continuous cruise in nature. Timing your occasional urban day to coincide with consumption of some colleague’s birthday cake or the Melbourne cup afternoon luncheon. In years gone by I was that guy, with a sparkle in my eye.

With age comes responsibility and the scarcity of work and that elusive pay check can corner a fish ecologist square up against the wall. Dry-dock, with a postcard or two pinned to the cork board representing the last memories of days in the field. These pictures come alive when they flicker to the blowing air conditioner. Images that whisper hauntingly of the time a couple of us measured forty-seven thousand carp gudgeons in a week, or landed a cod that would instantly swell a man’s testicles or at least present kudos to a female scientist carving out her freshwater fish science career. And to be sure, not all girls love horses.

I once had a desk job early on in the game. It had me camped in a library most days. Otherwise I sat at my desk with a computer at a time when it was commonplace to receive a tutorial on how to use an internet search engine. That was the moment, back there, right then. A computer was starting to mount the case for a claim on full custody of my working life. In that job, I was also occasionally in meetings with an economist. To be fair it was actually interesting and I had a boss that was always twenty steps ahead, always eager to learn and pass on her thinking about the past, the current and the future of the aquatic ecology of the Murray-Darling Basin (as if the Basin were one mythical, long-lived creature). And the economist was actually a real card. Damn straight I was grateful for that opportunity but it was 100% office time. Sanity hinged on glimpses of a two-foot fish tank in my office and McDowall’s brand spanking new second edition providing glimpses of the underwater world outside.

Weekends found my son and me out hauling bait traps and stocking glass boxes in our lounge room with gudgeon and redfin and rainbows and smelt (I love using the term gudgeon as the plural like you can buy it by the pound). Three Murray crays were flatmates and at times they spent too much time in the kitchen, the laundry or in my soon to be wife’s bed. A large cray climbing up the sheets into our bed was a line that once crossed was to prove a matter of contention between an aquarist and his partner. I would love to say I won the battle. Just confirming your suspicion, that would be my lie.

I’ve had jobs with big field chunks and regular field chunks and somewhere in between. I find that with each move to a new town and when faced with a new ecosystem there is a serious need to be out in it for those first few years, and then this can slow, but not entirely wane. Then it gets bloody interesting. This is the know enough to be dangerous phase, where I reckon I know what’s going on. It parallels some arm waving at a conference, some analysis and complementary writing. Time has passed. Then after no real first hand contact with the ecosystem or only a revisit to a familiar site or two, there is the get knocked on my arse phase. Getting back out there and realising how great it is to be in it, just long enough to realise that my mind has oversimplified this system. Like a long-lost girlfriend that I thought I still knew. And the all too familiar, ‘You just didn’t take the time to get to know me,’ as she walks out the door.

Ebb walking stream with Clingers Colour BackupLairFinal

So is it necessary to be in the field? For me, damn straight, indeedy. It stops me losing my way. My back begins to straighten. Muscles start to quiver having laid waste throughout all extremities of an office-chair-parked-body, and my mouse-hand conveys sarcastically, ‘Welcome back to the rest of you, care to get involved?’ Though clearly not enough muscle is in action to present any real threat to a Schwarzenegger or Stallone, a fish ecologist is reborn.

What happens to the fisho-mind in the field following an office-field balance period that has been seriously out of kilter? For one, there is simply a return of interest and curiosity upon seeing fish body patterns, their slippery bodies flipping in a net, the marvel of them alive. And there is the mental models challenged, confirmed or rebutted based on a sprinkling of concrete facts. There are new observations, like seeing a fish eating a mango for the first time, because the wet season has come late and the tablelands streams are not yet sponsored by Willy Wonker. A fish burying when I’d never picked it for a Houdini. A mixed shoal of natives and ferals, happily living side by side, challenging all of the books and papers from which I’d inferred that such tribes were at war, twenty-four seven. What happens to the fisho-mind, is that it is wonderfully intoxicated in the field.

Ants as ground support to the several leeches in my nether regions and mosquitoes attacking from the sky. The field can also be a dreadful place on a given day. Forgive the jolt, I merely needed to balance out all this nostalgia, and take a deep breath whilst at my trusty office keyboard.

So what about numbers? How much time and how frequently should I be in the field? In a lean year if I can get one or two sizeable trips in, I’ll survive as might my marriage. Sprinkle it with roughly a day a month or even one hour underwater in a stream per month, and that is probably a minimum, a quota to keep Satin from the door. Two separate one hour snorkels in quick succession, say on back to back weekends, and I could probably even go without rum for a while. But is it necessary for every fish ecologist? Maybe not. Who am I to say?





Richard Vari photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute

Vale Richard Vari.

It is with considerable sadness we report the passing of one of the world’s pre-eminent fish biologists and taxonomists, Richard P. Vari, who recently lost a year-long battle with cancer. Although Richard is perhaps more broadly known for his considerable body of research across South America, much of his early work (particularly his PhD dissertation on the terapontid grunters) was focused on Australian fishes. The genus Variichthys(including the still poorly known Australian species V. lacustris) was named in recognition of his work on the Terapontidae.

Varichthys photo

Variichthys lacustris (Mees & Kailola 1977)

Rich became a Curator in the Division of Fishes at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in 1980, served as Chairman of the Department of Vertebrate Zoology, and as Interim Associate Director for Science at the Smithsonian in recent years. He wrote or co-authored more than 150 articles and papers and discovered 190 fish species. Five species have been named after him. Rich was especially influential in developing young scientists, particularly from South American countries. He hosted dozens of fellows and researchers at the Smithsonian Museum (even accommodating without question some recent Australian fish researchers who randomly approached him for time at his lab). Richard was one of that rare breed of researchers who easily bridged the gap between ‘old school’ morphological-meristic taxonomy and emerging molecular systematics. A selfless researcher who was always generous with his time (despite his own considerable work commitments), his presence will be sorely missed.

Editor’s note: Thank you, to Aaron Davis, for taking the time to pen this important tribute to Dr Richard Vari. Richard will be missed. Permission to display the photograph of him was kindly provided by the Office of Photography and Media, National Museum of Natural History, Washington.




Luna Park

ASFB conference wrap: Sydney 2015

By Ben Broadhurst with help from Lara Suitor


Following on from the Darwin Conference was never going to be easy, both in terms of the standard of research given, the faces that came far and wide (some of which were sadly missing in Sydney) and of course the social activities.

Sydney, however, delivered. Firstly huge congratulations to Matt Taylor and the organising committee for pulling off a great conference. What better way to start a fish biology conference than in an Aquarium. The welcome to country was a cracker, really set the scene and was by far the best one we had ever encountered. The welcome drinks is always a great way to start the conference, catching up with fellow fishos around a cold bevvy or two certainly whets the appetite for the proceeding few days. Add in that this was all undertaken around the perimeter of the Dugong enclosure and it almost became surreal. But lettuce move on…

The conference proper consisted of two days of concurrent sessions surrounding the middle day in which the Murray-Darling Basin Native Fish Forum was held. I was invited to assess the student talks (of which there are a number of prizes now!) which meant I was attending some talks I probably wouldn’t normally have gone to and found it to be a great way to be exposed to some new research. I have to say the standard is a little embarrassing, as a 10 year veteran of ASFB conferences, the presentation skills of these upstarts is largely ridiculous, and puts my bumbling efforts to shame. On the subject of students, the student mixer held on Monday evening at UTS was a great opportunity for budding researchers to tap into a wealth of experience the senior members of the ASFB possess, and from all reports, a success on that front. Sort out the line for the bar and it would’ve been an A+ event!


The student mixer was a great chance for young and old to mingle and despite whinging about the line-up for the bar, I’m pictured here (albeit in the background), double parked….


The Native Fish Forum on day 2 was the highlight. From John Koehn’s proclamation that he, “loves fish”, to the outstanding presentation of the power of recreational fishers to enhance fish habitat given by Matt Hansen. Martin Mallen-Cooper’s presentation on hydrology vs Hydraulics also resonated with me, some really simple solutions for the homogenous habitat in the lower Murray! Brenton Zampatti’s presentation on carp response from infrastructure induced floodplain inundation was also a bell ringer! On a sad note, as it always is when brought up, is the death of the Native Fish Strategy, around which most of the presentations of the forum were based. The rousing introduction and conclusion given by Craig Copeland, along with the work of all those present in the room, will hopefully ensure that the legacy of the Strategy lives long and prospers (and I’m not even a trekky) and we continue to make headway towards that goal of native fish restoration.


John Koehn loves fish, and old men with Beards. But who doesn’t.


What better way to wrap up three intense days of fish conferencing, than a leisurely dinner cruise around Sydney Harbour after nightfall. Top notch, great company and quiet ale or two made for a most enjoyable finale. For all its faults, this city is pretty bloody spectacular from the water after dark.


Its all fun and games until the Polaroid comes out…



My cheesy mug and Sydney’s finest night-time views


Cheers Sydney and bring on Tassie!


Ben and Larz


Brackish behaviour

By Ebb

It’s not that long now until fish and fisheries researchers, managers and associated types will be gearing up to attend the Australian Society for Fish Biology conference in Sydney. Early bird registration has passed and the diehards are reminded that it has been a year or more since the previous annual migration has come to pass. New-comers are nervous with expectation and up for a great experience. Darwin was a success, and for mine they almost always are. I suspect I’ve missed maybe two conferences in twenty years, which is not necessarily a badge of honour, but has certainly given me regular opportunity to meet friends and colleagues and to stay somewhat up to date with bits and bobs. For the record, at least one of those conference absences was due to the birth of a child when I was living in Mildura and the conference took place merely a few hours down the road in Bendigo. Nevertheless we are expected to love our children.

This year there will be a full day of Murray-Darling Basin centric presentations. For the Basin crowd this will be a chance to mix in an interstate manner, and champion collaborative initiatives fused at the hip by a river system, a common fauna and funding. For the freshwater fish fraternity that operates outside of the Basin this presents an opportunity to watch on at what happens at the Basin buffet, or to pretend to grab a smoke outside.

I’ve spent my fair share of time a while back swirling around in the Basin inertia. On a good day it is intoxicating with the applied challenges that go with large-scale agriculture in dry country and a fish fauna stacked with some of the big species and the imperilled. Clearly, there is a critical mass of fishy professionals focussed on this part of Australia.

Step outside of the Basin and things can be a little thinner on the ground in places. And to be sure there is a real chance that those of a freshwater persuasion based outside the Basin can be cast adrift, seemingly ostracised from the heartland, the cortex. Clearly, a few pulses of the opercula, some O2 to the gills and a pinch of perspective, is all that it is required to see that ‘ostracised’ is a perilous interpretation, that simply requires an attitude readjustment. In a progressive society, mixed shoals are to be encouraged and even cherished. Smoking is to be frowned upon.

Which brings me to the issue of the fresh and the saltwater shoaling. There is indeed advantage to be had in chatting with our marine fish colleagues. For some this will be as natural as skinny-dipping on a Canberra summer day (There are reports of Beluga as far up as Bendora). For others, deeply indoctrinated into freshwater fish ecology it may seem theoretically sound but in practice a little unnatural to mix with marine fish types.

Brackish Colour_2015

The theory goes something like this: broadening horizons is good, a widened perspective arms us with more knowledge and potentially new ideas, and you may already be operating in marine fish work partly anyway. And then there’s diadromy. A quiet silence. Yeh diadromy! It is like taking your opponent’s queen. Check mate is imminent. So without labouring the point, I think we can all concede that there are benefits to mixing with the salties. But can the salties see benefit in mixing with us? Is there really an us and them? Should websites like the Lair be put on notice for instigating racial tension? Let’s calm down and make believe we are all reasonable people.

Essentially, the same arguments should apply to the marine folk looking back at the inlanders, one would think. There is only one way to find out. When we storm the Sydney conference, attend a swag of marine talks, stray from your beaten path, share a beer, or have a coffee with one or a bunch of them. But tread carefully if they don’t like neither coffee or beer. For to offer to share a water, a pure fresh water, well this is a long way from Switzerland, and could indeed represent potential professional suicide. At worst it is a move that can only be interpreted as aggressive, at best seen as a rookie mistake.

Brackish_Great_White_Barry_Bruce 2015_colour

With the aid of Scott Hardie, I previously mentioned the inspirational presentation that Gavin Butler gave at ASFB several years ago (see the Magic Moments section of the Lair, a bunch of contributions back). Here I’d like to add that I’ve attended some exceptional marine talks at ASFB as well. Fondly, I recall entering a room that was literally standing room only and Barry Bruce putting up an image at the start of his talk in Hobart many moons ago. The picture was of a goliath great white nosing the back of a research vessel, and three scientists standing shoulder to shoulder at the stern, their collective shoulder widths roughly as wide as the snout of this beast. Not sure what the ever charismatic Dr Bruce said from that point on, but I’ve never been able to shake that shark image from my mind. And Renae Tobin gave a talk during her PhD candidature that simply changed how I perceived fish science. That day, she convinced me that biology was just one part of the fish and fisheries story and demonstrated social science could be done effectively (much to the disgust of at least one old school biologist in the crowd), and she did it by eloquently not buying into any form of audience pressure.


In conclusion, I’m all for encouraging the mixing of the freshwater and the saltwater fish crowds. How about a little brackish socialising in Sydney? – I hope to see you there, umm, for a coffee.


Associate Editor’s note: Ebb is the ASFB workshop convener and special session co-ordinator. If you have an idea for a workshop or a special session in Hobart, 2016, grab a beer or a coffee with him in Sydney, and chew his ear off.  Allswell

Cover Picture cropped

What is the future of the Critically Endangered Elizabeth Springs Goby?

By Dave Roberts


Picture 1: Photograph of the Elizabeth Springs Goby thanks to Gunther Schmida ( Note: any self-respecting freshwater fisho should have a copy of Gunther’s Pictorial books. Go buy them! NOW!

It might not be the biggest, most colourful, or charismatic of our native freshwater fish. Quite the opposite, being one of the smallest, least adorned by colour and an expert at concealing itself in shallow water. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in heart and determination. The Elizabeth Spring Goby (Chlamydogobius. micropterus ) lives in far western Queensland, a harsh region with little permanent surface water, other than the Elizabeth Springs themselves (23°20’45.35″S, 140°34’56.78″E). These springs were listed on the National Heritage List in 2009, being protected under the Commonwealth Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) due to their ‘outstanding heritage value to the nation” (DEWHA, 2009). Tragically, over 75% of the artesian springs in Qld are extinct (no longer flowing) and for this reason the Elizabeth Springs are ‘regarded as one of the most important GAB artesian springs’ (DE, 2015). It is the same uniqueness and scarcity of the Springs that are also the Goby’s greatest threat. Why? Water is life in far west Qld and these springs provide one of the few reliable water sources for all animals in this isolated part of Queensland, including cattle, one of their greatest threats.

I made it my mission to visit Elizabeth Springs during a recent holiday to far west Qld. My desire to see the springs was one of discovery, not having seen a Great Artesian Basin spring before, or an Elizabeth Spring Goby in the flesh. I knew very little about the springs or the goby, other than a few brief mentions of them in some of the more comprehensive Australian fish texts (Allen, et al., 2002). I had wondered what the springs would be like and was full of anticipation to see them for the first time. Having heard and seen a lot about the other infamous springs in west Qld, the Edgbaston Springs (thanks to one media tart Dr Adam Kerezsy) I recalled some of Adams past talks and pictures of Edgbaston spring pools fringed with emergent macrophytes, scattered in clusters amongst the impossibly dry landscape.

I carefully studied my topographic maps to narrow down where they were, somewhere about half way between our camp at Diamantina National Park and Boulia, but how would I know I was there? I had visions of approaching a lush green oasis amongst the dry dusty grasslands clearly signalling their presence. However, on arrival, there was just a rusty street sign standing amongst the black pea gravel and a few stunted gidgee bushes. Had I blinked I would have missed it. Off in the distance I could just make out a smudge of green, just a thin line of low growing bushes surrounded by brown parched land. It turns out this was actually Spring Creek, not the Springs. The anticipation!


Picture 2: Elizabeth Springs sign post, far, far west Qld.

We parked alongside a property boundary fence and started the 1 km walk to the springs. About 300 m into the walk we came across a historic relic in an old hand drawn sign and turnstile. I could just make out the faded wording, “Home of endangered flora and fauna”. Hell yeah, this is what I travelled hours for! It was encouraging to see this sign, knowing these unique springs were recognised way back when, with a sign and fence demarcating an otherwise hidden gem. I could forgive the presence of a mere remnant of this early fence, a relic of pioneering conservation efforts, as surely there would be a gleaming new fence somewhere in the distance surrounding the springs. I then wondered for a moment, were the springs ever that popular to require a turnstile? Probably not, I suspect it was just a convenient way to keep the cows out.


Picture 3: Old sign announcing the Springs and a turn style?

So on we walked hoping we were heading in the right direction to the springs, not simply wandering around in the dry and dusty landscape. In fact the springs were dead ahead of us a few more hundred meters from this turnstile. Where you ask? Well I was asking myself the same thing. I could see no green oasis, no gleaming pools of spring water. However, I was not deterred. We then came across a second sign. Wow, this was more like it, a much newer sign with copious facts and pictures and plenty of state, federal and local NRM logos. Text panels highlighting the ‘Oasis’ that is the springs, the presence of Endangered Species only found here, highlighting the plight and Risks….

Wait! What? No pictures of the Elizabeth Springs Goby. Disappointing given this species is only found at this one isolated location. How more endangered can you get! At least they got a mention.


Picture 4: The new sign for Elizabeth Springs.

I read every word, absorbing every drop of the experience. I read how the springs are endangered and are threatened by stock, water extraction, and conversion of springs into dams for stock watering. The panels go on to say “You can help by remaining on the marked walking tracks”. Ok great, walking tracks. I can handle sticking to a marked out walking track for such an important site. We looked around but there was no sign of a track, however I’m sure one would appear as we get closer to the springs. I then read the last of the text, the “Management” which states “The Elizabeth Springs has been fenced as part of its ongoing management. This fence has been designed to exclude domestic stock and feral animals while allowing smaller native species to utilise the spring area”. Oh thank god, I was worried for a moment that the old fence post and turnstile were the extent of the protection. Not to mention the copious quantities of cow poo we passed on the way here, sure signs of herds of cattle circling the spring complex. Brimming with anticipation we push on. We walked another 100 m, 200 m, still no sign of water and no sign of a marked walking track. The first sign of water we saw was small refuge pool in Spring Creek. The dry creek bed can just be made out from the surrounding land, with a thin strip of vegetation along its banks.


Picture 5: Spring Creek with an isolated waterhole.

Beyond Spring Creek I could just make out some patches of green low growing vegetation surrounding a large depression. Was this the first spring. Not so, this pool was more like a waterhole, possibly an overflow billabong of Spring Creek. Considering the step sides and lack of permanent vegetation growing around the fringes, it resembled a man-made dam, cut into the earth’s surface to provide a collection point for water. There were obvious signs of cattle using this dam regularly with cattle tracks and dung all around. Hang on! I thought cattle, dams and the conversion of springs into watering points was a threat to the springs.


Picture 6: A small muddy waterhole (or dam) adjacent Spring Creek.

We walked on. Finally, could that be, no, maybe, yes it is! My first very mound spring! But where’s the water? Is that it? Surely not!


Picture 7: My first mound spring, barely detectable in the distance.

I approached the mound spring, still no sign of a walking track, my eyes fixed to the centre of the mound of green vegetation distinct from the brown grassy surrounds, I was willing to see some surface water. What would it be like? A crystal clear pool perched in the centre of the mound, water gently gurgling up from the earth, rare and exotic plants abound, and gobies skiting to and fro. Well reality set in fast. Here was the first spring I came across.


Picture 8: The reality of a mound spring in the Elizabeth Spring complex.

What I found was a mere puddle of water with barely a dribble of water trickling out like a slow leaking garden hose. In the distance I could see a second mound (Pic 8 top right), smaller than the first, and then to the east, a third more substantial mound. Beyond that, not another sign of a spring within eye shot.

I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. I thought there had to be more. Was I in the wrong place, maybe the real springs are further away? I went to the largest of the three springs that I could see. This larger spring had more water than the other two, but still only a dismal amount of surface water, with barely a detectable trickle coming from it, only enough to wet the surrounding sedges. I strained to look into the surface water of the spring, not wanting to step too close to the wetted area. I could just make out the occasional darting motion from what I assumed to be Elizabeth Spring Gobies, maybe 20 individuals in total. That was encouraging, not having seen another sign of a fish in the other smaller springs or in the wetted sedges areas surrounding the spring mounds.


Picture 9: The largest of three springs that were in the area nearest the entry gate and signs.

As I surveyed the surrounds, trying to make sense of the scene in front of me, I remembered, the “Management” actions on the sign, talking about fencing and staying on the walking tracks. Well where is the fence? There was no fence, not at least between the property boundary near the road where we parked and the springs. Neither was there a walking track. It was clearly evident that the springs were accessible by cattle with hoof divots throughout the wetland and fresh dung scattered around. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And to rub salt into my emotional wounds, there was a herd of cattle running off in the distance. Is this normal? I must be in the wrong place.


Picture 10: Obvious signs of cattle damage and the general state of the wetlands surrounding the spring mounds.

I was left a little stunned and disappointed that such a unique and endangered spring ecosystem listed on the National Heritage List 6 years ago, had seemingly little or no protection at all. Is this normal or was the cattle damage just from a few rouge cattle that broke through the fence line far off in the distance? There were clear signs of cattle accessing the springs and with such little remaining surface water, the risk of damage would be greatly elevated. I was only able to observe gobies in one of the three springs and did not see gobies in any of the wetted areas surrounding the mound springs.

I stood there thinking about the real risks to the goby form these obvious signs of cattle accessing the springs. They could defecate directly into the spring, or worse, a beast could die in or near a single spring. Worst case would be to send the whole wetland anoxic and potentially wiping out a sub-population of the gobies, at best making the spring eutrophic and smothering the area with algae. Then there was the obvious cattle pugging (deep footprints) that were present throughout the springs and surround wetland areas (Pic 10) potentially altering the depth and microhabitat structures for the goby. I spent a good hour, much to my family’s disgust, looking around and photographing the signs of cattle damage and looking for more signs of gobies, but seeing the precarious situation, I dare not go too close to the limited areas of free surface water in fear of further damaging to these seemingly ‘egg shell’ fragile springs.

I revisited the sign on leaving, reading the facts again, but with less of a sense of encouragement, and more of despair. I read about the historical changes to spring flow rates from 4.5 ML/day in the late 1800’s, down to 0.68 ML/day in the 1950’s. Most concerning of all was the results of a survey in 2000 that found only one of the 16 springs were still flowing. Sadly, I feared that I may have been standing right in front of that one remaining flowing spring. The flow was barely detectable, only becoming obvious as it dribbled across the parched earth, draining toward the dam about 50 m from the spring mound.

On return home I wanted to find out more. My first questions was this normal for the springs and was I expecting too much? What about the dramatic reduction in flow rates over time? I read some of the historical accounts and was quite astounded to read about and see photographs of the springs historically. Fairfax and Fensham (2002) reported the springs had flows in the 1890’s that charged Spring Creek (Pic 5) with water for 32 km downstream of the spring complex, and possibly up to 128 km during pre-artesian bore drilling periods. Other reports state the flow was probably much less, providing enough water to recharge the creek for around 4.8 km. In either case there was certainly no spring water making it into Spring Creek in 2015. I also read how in 1896 there were up to 20 mound springs with surface water pools 1.5 – 3 m across, and one single large spring with a pool of water 4.6 – 6.1 m across (Fairfax and Fensham, 2002). Astonishingly the authors report an observation that a plumb line sank 17.4 m deep into the main spring without reaching the bottom. This article also has pictures of the Springs in 1915, showing large areas of surface water within a much more pronounced mound than occurs today. Curtis, et al. (2012) reports the results of recent surveys (~2002) that found goby numbers were highly variable and may only occur in five springs. I only saw signs of gobies in one spring out of three. This book also highlights the many threats from reduced flow rates, trampling and faeces from cattle and the tell-tale signs of eutrophication. I somehow feel what I saw was not normal and might well be a system in terminal decline and on the edge of collapse.

I could not help but wonder if what I saw in 2015 might be close to the end for the Elizabeth Springs Goby and that the ongoing drought and the damage occurring from cattle accessing the springs, puts these gobies one step away from extinction. How long do they have left? I tried to remind myself that this fish has evolved over a few million years to these unique and harsh conditions in west Qld. They are undoubtedly tough and have endured the worst of historical droughts before European settlement, but are there adaptations able to withstand the onslaught of natural drought combined with water extraction and pastoral activities.

When I was there in April 2015 the region looked impossibly dry as did the rest of far west Qld. Certainly the nearby Spring Creek had barely a puddle of water in it, so I suspect the patchy rain in far west Qld has done little for aquifers and the long term flow rates from the springs. Since my trip in April, some areas of western Qld have received good rain, but the Autumn average rainfall of the nearest town of Boulia (2.4 mm) was well below the autumn average of 62 mm suggesting the Springvale region has not received much of that rain, let alone any break in the long running drought of west Qld.

I am certainly sympathetic to the plight of graziers in this region and the need to find water for cattle and people. However, protecting the spring mounds is paramount and surely there are other options for accessing this precious water flowing from the springs other than allowing cattle to directly access the mounds. It was a sobering experience to see this country at its worst. I only hope I can return some time in the near future when it is at its best and get to experience an Elizabeth Spring Goby up close without fear of contributing to its precarious position.



Allen, G.R., Midgley, S.H. & Allen, M. (2002). Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Western Australian Museum, Perth.

Curtis, L. K., Dennis, A. J., McDonald, K. R., Kyne, P. M., & Debus, S. J. (2012). Queensland’s Threatened Animals. CSIRO Publishing.

Department of the Environment, (2015). Department of the Environment – Great Artesian Basin Springs: Elizabeth. Website (accessed 21/08/15):; &; &;place_id=105821.

Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (2009). Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No P 3, Tuesday, 4 August 2009. 332358 Cat. No. P309. ISSN 1032-2345.

Schmida, G. (2015). The Australian Freshwater Fishes Pictorial 2. Edition 6-14.


Mud Map of area visited.

Editor’s note: The Lair is generally a pretty up beat place, however, this article prepared by Dave Roberts is stirring and soul destroying stuff in parts. I would like to thank Dave for making the effort to explain what he witnessed. Let’s hope there is some follow up on this one. I have included some means for contacting Dave below, and checking out what else he gets up to.

(email: [email protected])

ResearchGate (

Web Site (





In praise of peer review: the obvious and not-so-obvious benefits

By Adam Kerezsy   

Ebb and Rob Rolls recently touched on peer review, Ebb in the context of his backlog of papers, Rollsy more generally.

Despite the fact that it can be a pain, the peer review process has several benefits over and above the obvious goal of keeping our science to a professional standard.

First, peer review makes us better readers and writers – not just better science readers and writers, but better overall. Despite the constraints imposed by science, writing remains a creative process, and we all do it differently. By exposing our work to the eyes and minds of others we harvest opinions and ideas that haven’t occurred to us, and we either edit our work accordingly or defend our original position, but any editing is usually good editing: we end up re-assessing the validity of our work. Multiple authorship often creates a similar result, but not always: independent reviewers frequently expose issues with manuscripts that teams of authors submit in the belief that the research and writing is as tight as a duck’s nether regions. If we assume that the majority of reviews will be by colleagues with at least the same amount of skin in the game as us, we have a responsibility to respect their advice, just as they have a right to express it. By becoming involved in the peer review process – submitting, getting knocked back, re-submitting, reading and reviewing the work of others – we rapidly develop our own editing skills. We learn from past mistakes, our grammar and punctuation improves and we become more concise. We learn to discard waffle and concentrate on the meaningful stuff. And when we read other material – everything from newspapers to other published work – our collective antennae are more finely attuned. Crap papers will still slip through and good papers will still get shafted – the system isn’t perfect, but it’s far better than the alternative. Undergrads and Honours students are frequently told to read as much as possible. It doesn’t always make sense at the time, but it certainly comes true later. If in doubt, dig out an old assignment or literature review and have a look – it may not be pleasant.

Second, the peer-review process allows people to access the profession. In our case, despite the fact that there are plenty of freshwater people spread about, both globally and in Australia, it’s not a stretch to call it a far-flung group. By submitting work to journals, people are effectively auditioning for their spot on the lunch seats, and by enduring the peer-review process they’re letting the other kids make the decision. Sometimes it might take a while, but persistence is likely to pay off. The great advantage is that through the process, names and areas of interest become known to others, and this can happen irrespective of the success or failure of submissions. It’s not unusual to meet people at conferences or meetings, only to realise that they reviewed your paper, or that you reviewed theirs. Except in extreme circumstances, we can assume these encounters are amicable, but either way, the net result is the same: people know who you are and what you’re doing. There are certainly people out in the big wide world who do great work and don’t publish it, but it doesn’t really make much sense, because it’s not really contributing to the bigger picture. Without a doubt the best way to become involved in research is to conduct it, and then to publish it (or at the very least, to quote a former and nearly-forgotten NSW premier, give it a red-hot go). The third and most important aspect of the peer-review process is its role in preserving the culture, tradition and processes of our profession. People will dream up new techniques, they’ll invent more sophisticated gadgetry, and they’ll come up with new models and theories, but the purpose of peer-review is to sort the wheat from the chaff: if it doesn’t pass muster – and no matter how much the researcher thinks it should – the technique/model/gadget probably needs a bit more work. Unlike other occupations, the scientific process has not and will not be fundamentally altered by the influence of the internet (like journalism) or fashion (like music and the arts). It is slow and ponderous – a criticism levelled by some – but it has to be, because that’s the way it has evolved. There are several traditions that underpin science. They include hypothesis testing, sound experimental design and a relatively formulaic style of writing and reportage. Peer-review is another such tradition, and a vital one for a profession that is mediated and nurtured by formal introspection.



Ebb (2014). The backlog. The Moray’s Lair (perspective; December 24)

Rolls, R. (2015). Science as a team contact sport. The Moray’s Lair. (perspective; March 9)

Keogh_Measurign Macca

Getting from poor to offshore – A graduates perspective


By Chris Keogh

Lost, is probably the best word to describe the feeling felt as a newly graduated student aspiring to work as a fish ecologist. The years of hard work, procrastination, dedication, two minute noodles, procrastination, coffee and late nights, has motored along all too quickly. Mind numbing and tedious at times, being stuck on one paragraph in a discussion and the finding I’d totally missed the target of a hypothesis, those days are all of a sudden to a harsh and sudden halt. From my 3 years at University I have learnt an overwhelming amount of biology and ecology, however there are a few things that really became apparent to me over my course, these include:

  • The words Job Stability and Scientist never cross paths.
  • Scientists are passionate, not money hungry.
  • You need to stand out – send annoying emails repetitively
  • Networking is critical – beers
  • Postgraduate – the first and last option – more beers
  • Freshwater fishos are the best kind of scientists – no offence to anyone

I’m sure every science graduate will agree with me that most courses are very broad and rarely focused, even within specific subjects. Recognizing this early in my degree, I decided it was up to me to expand my knowledge of my interests, I did this in a number of ways from confronting lecturers and asking to base my assignment topics on particular topics, to pestering researchers for volunteer work. In the perfect world a bachelor degree, majoring in the Biology and Ecology of Australian Freshwater Fishes, coordinated by Gerry Allen, Brad Pusey and Mark Lintermans, would be ideal (plenty of guest lecturers as well, you know who you are), but one can only dream. Nevertheless a number of scientists helped me both within my formal subjects and through volunteer opportunities and these people took the time to teach me essentially what I needed. Now here’s the hard part, finding a job.

Keogh_Back fromt he hood

Rhian Clear giving Ben Broadhurst and me a warm welcome back from the hood, after collecting drift nets

Keogh_Measurign Macca

Getting body measurements on Macquarie perch with Ben Broadhurst from the University of Canberra

The term, “getting your foot in the door” is a term I have consistently heard every week of my life for the past 3-4 years. Now getting a foot in the door seems to be a hard slog, but all in all is a thrilling process of networking, emails, phone calls and chance, all driven by the saying “it’s not what you know but who you know”. Although somewhat true, I disagree with this statement for a number of reasons, one reason being it can appear as a bypass of expending energy into learning more and instead of putting your energy into networking. Learning and networking are both equally as important however, when searching for job prospects I believe I should present myself in a manner that would suit both someone who knows me and someone who doesn’t. Words, socializing and good quality banter with friends and scientists is advantageous in numerous ways, but expanding your knowledge is priceless.

Keogh_Catch sequence

Me going head over biscuit in the name of Cod, The fish was unharmed, I came out with a few grazes.


So all this that I have learnt through university, volunteering and research/work, where has it placed me? In a position with numerous contacts, a range of experiences, many new friends and hopefully a foot in the door somewhere. What I gained has prepared me for a career in research science whether it has begun or not. I have somewhat been warmed up for the endeavors of being a scientist through learning new scientific methods, working in team environments, learning how to communicate with different people, working for someone, working for a large company, all while swelling my appreciation for the planet we live on. Science is a tough gig, and limited by resources, time and funding, and I have witnessed firsthand even the best Scientists in the A-grade of Freshwater Ecology struggle for funding and/or work sometimes, but that is science and I’m sure you will all agree with me for the work we do and want to do, its definitely worth it.

Whether it’s the tropical perennial streams of the north or the coffee coloured, blackberry plagued banks of the Murrumbidgee down south, freshwater ecosystems are our common grounds and we are all in it to contribute to the library of knowledge based around Australia’s unique freshwater systems. With this common interest, people and scientists can instantly relate to each other, so for all you freshwater enthusiasts, undergrads, grads and jobless people, I see we all have a place where we will eventually be, we just need to work for it. The harder you work the luckier you get, start networking, volunteering and teaching yourself, it will eventually pay off.

Employer’s and Scientists, tips, pointers, constructive criticism and advice for us graduates would be readily welcomed on this site or my email address at [email protected]. Especially pointers on writing CV’s and selection criteria.

Thanks for taking the time to have a read, and hopefully this article sparked up a few memories and reminded you of when you were first out of university and how far you have come now.

Editor’s note: Chris has been brave here as a recent undergraduate writing his perspective on looking for work in the current era. Offline he asked me if I might be able to drum up some interest in his written piece. So, are there any freshwater fish ecologists, managers, lecturers and the like out there that might like to share a response on the issue of employing recent graduates? I encourage you to consider posting a perspective or maybe writing me a short letter to include on the website. And I’m sure Chris is interested in volunteer opportunities and preferably some form of paid gig………


Science as a team contact sport

By Rob Rolls

Science is the process of producing knowledge. It is about using and building on what is currently known to learn a little more. A key question is: how does each of us play a part in its production?

In an era of reducing support and interest in science, there is a growing emphasis on how frequently scientists, as individuals, produce knowledge. As all ecologists understand, when a population increases, but resources stay the same or go down, competition increases. Competition leads to mortality or reduced growth of individuals. Metrics like H-index’s and the numbers of papers and citations are all measures of how well an individual is fairing against the rest of the pack. Finding funds is slightly less important because you can still generate science without any more money than you need to keep connected to the world. If you can conceive and think about an idea, work on it, write your ideas down and publish them, then you’re doing well and the bar is set to have all your metrics improve next year.

Scientific papers are the currency used to measure the performance of a scientist in producing new knowledge. The model described above assumes that all the cool ideas in a paper are generated and refined solely by those who are listed as authors. This isn’t entirely accurate-not every paper starts its publication life as a perfect masterpiece. First, reviewers of manuscripts for scientific journals freely share their ideas to help improve the scope, focus the direction, clarify the content to make the final paper more appealing, stronger and just overall, better. One may justifiably assume that the more an individual publishes their science, the more that they reciprocate and review the work of others. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Editors have a tough job finding people who are willing to spare their weekends or evenings in helping review and contribute to papers.

Second, with this greater emphasis on claiming credit for producing science, those acting as reviewers may contribute more to a paper than those listed as an author. Where to draw the line on authorship is a tough call in ecology. Does someone who you chatted with about an idea over the water-cooler seven years ago deserve some credit on a piece of work today? Do you list a member of a project team who had a read of the manuscript to cross the “i’s” and dot the “t’s” make the cut? What happens when a reviewer shares an idea that forces the major re-shaping of a paper into a better form that you or your listed co-authors didn’t think of?

Rather than consider reviewers as a gate-keeper for your work seeing daylight, view them as a member of the science team irrespective of their species. Acknowledge the contribution of reviewers to your work, and reciprocate by being part of the editorial system. There are different schools of thought with regards to knowing the identities of journal reviewers. On the one hand, not knowing the reviewers identity is handy because you may be more inclined to face the actual criticisms of a manuscript rather than the creditability of the person sharing them. For the reviewer, there can be a nice feeling when you see a paper published that you had some involvement in, and knowing that the authors don’t know who you are. On the other, there is often a level of respect with knowing who reviewed your paper, and this comes with a reviewer having the guts to identify who they are. Either way, just thank your reviewers and acknowledge their contribution in a way that you feel comfortable with. Being part of the team in this way will help you have a place in the long-run.


Authors note. These ideas were shaped with two good friends, Cath Leigh and Simone Langhans, during 2014, and refined by trial and rejection from a handful of journals.

Further reading:

Bourne, P.E. & Korngreen, A. (2006) Ten simple rules for reviewers. PLoS Computational Biology, 2, e110.

Fischer, J., Ritchie, E.G. & Hanspach, J. (2012) Academia’s obsession with quantity. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 27, 473-474.

Rolls, R.J., Leigh, C. & Langhans, S.D. (In press) Improving science through improved acknowledgment of reviewers. Conservation Biology

Statzner, B. & Resh, V.H. (2010) Negative changes in the scientific publication process in ecology: potential causes and consequences. Freshwater Biology, 55, 2639-2653.

Tedesco, P.A. (2011) The race to publish in the age of ever-increasing productivity. Natures Sciences Societes, 19, 432-435.

Tscharntke, T., Hochberg, M.E., Rand, T.A., Resh, V.H. & Krauss, J. (2007) Author sequence and credit for contributions in multiauthored publications. PLoS Biology, 5, e18.

Wardle, D.A. (2012) On plummeting manuscript acceptance rates by the main ecological journals and the progress of ecology. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution, 5, 13-15.