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

John Morrongiello, David Crook, Alison Jane King, David Ramsey, Paul Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Climate change is expected to negatively impact many freshwater environments due to reductions in stream-flow and increases in temperature. These conditions, however, can already be found today in areas experiencing significant drought; current observations of species' responses to droughts can be used to make predictions about their future responses to climate change. Using otolith analysis, we recreated golden perch (Macquaria ambigua) growth chronologies from two temperate lake populations in southeastern Australia over a 15-year period pre- and during a supraseasonal drought. We related interannual growth variation to landscape-scale changes in temperature and hydrological regimes: fish growth declined as water levels in the lakes dropped during the drought, but this effect was offset by increased growth in warmer years. We hypothesize that golden perch are responding to fluctuations in food availability and intraspecific competition related to water level and to an optimization of physiological growth conditions related to increases in growing season length. Based on our analyses, we made predictions of future growth under a number of climate change scenarios that incorporate forecast deviations in stream-flows and air temperature. Despite climatic models predicting significant declines in future water availability, fish growth may increase due to a disproportionate lengthening of the growing season. As the two lakes are at the limit of the southerly range of golden perch, our results are consistent with previous findings of climate-change driven latitudinal range shifts in a poleward direction. We discuss assumptions concerning the constancy of ecological interactions into the future that warrant further study. Our research provides a novel application of biochronological analysis that could be used elsewhere to further our knowledge of species responses to changing environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)745-755
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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