Standard Talk (15 mins) Australian Society for Fish Biology Conference 2022

Medium-term ecological response to river rehabilitation efforts in the Dewfish Demonstration Reach (#80)

Andrew Norris 1 , Michael Hutchison 1 , Greg Ringwood 2 , David Nixon 1 , Jenny Shiau 1
  1. Queensland Department Of Agriculture And Fisheries, Woorim, QLD, Australia
  2. Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia

The Dewfish Demonstration Reach (DDR) was established in 2008 under MDBA’s Native Fish Strategy, with the purpose of demonstrating to the community the benefits delivered by strategic river rehabilitation. A wide range of intervention activities were undertaken between 2008-2015 to improve the river health in the DDR. Structured monitoring and evaluation of the outcomes formed an essential component, using an MBARCI framework. Significant improvements in local native fish populations were identified until formal monitoring ended in 2015. However, the impacts of rehabilitation activities can take years or even decades to fully develop, much longer than typical project timeframes. Monitoring of the same sites conducted 5-10 years post rehabilitation efforts has provided extremely valuable information on the durability and persistence of rehabilitation activities and medium-term ecological responses. A two-year record level drought resulted in extremely low water levels in the period preceding the monitoring. Despite this, the overall riparian condition had continued to improve, but relapse to less environmentally optimal land management practices may have occurred in some areas. The presence of many small-bodied fish species remained closely linked to the abundance of aquatic and overhanging riparian vegetation. Structural instream habitat enhancements have all remained in place and continue to provide valuable habitat complexity. Recovery of large-bodied native fish populations has also  continued strongly, particularly for Murray cod. This has been closely linked to the long-term increase in instream habitat complexity, particularly large woody structures. Pest fish abundance has remained low. The results demonstrate how most of the intervention activities continue to deliver significant ecological benefits for no ongoing effort. The cumulative impact of all intervention activities is likely to continue to develop in future years.