Quantifying movement of multiple threatened species to inform adaptive management of environmental flows

T. Espinoza, C. L. Burke, L. Carpenter-Bundhoo, S. M. Marshall, A. J. McDougall, D. T. Roberts, H. A. Campbell, M. J. Kennard

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There is a growing need for water managers to refine and optimise environmental flow strategies (e-flows) to balance water requirements for humans and nature. With increasing demands for freshwater and consequent declines in biodiversity, managers are faced with the problem of how to adaptively manage e-flows for multiple stakeholders and species whose flow requirements may overlap or vary. This study assessed the effectiveness of a regulated e-flow release strategy from a dam, aimed at providing movement opportunities and facilitating reproductive processes for multiple threatened species. Movements of 24 Mary River cod (Maccullochella mariensis), 20 Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri) and 13 Mary River turtle (Elusor macrurus) were quantified using acoustic telemetry over a three-year period. The influence of regulated e-flow releases, season, river depth, water temperature and rainfall on animal movements was assessed using Generalised linear mixed models (GLMMs). Models showed that hydraulic connectivity provided by both natural flows and regulated e-flow releases facilitated movement of all three species between pool habitats, throughout the year. Mary River turtles made extensive use of regulated e-flow releases when moving between habitats, whereas Mary River cod and Australian lungfish required additional natural rises in river height above the regulated e-flows to trigger movements. Significant movement activity was also recorded for cod and turtles during the dry season (winter and spring), broadly coinciding with breeding periods for these species. The effectiveness of, and potential improvements to, current e-flow strategies to sustain key life-history requirements of these species is discussed. Findings suggest a revised e-flow strategy with relatively minor increases in the magnitude of e-flow releases throughout winter and spring, would be effective in providing movement opportunities and supporting reproductive success for all three species. This study demonstrates that by quantifying movement behaviour in an e-flow context, ecological risk assessment frameworks can then be used to assess and provide for critical life-history requirements of multiple species within the context of a highly regulated system under increasing water use demands.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113067
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Early online date23 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


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