Fish larvae, growth and biomass relationships in an Australian arid zone river: links between floodplains and waterholes
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1. Floodplain inundation provides many benefits to fish assemblages of floodplain river systems, particularly those with a predictable annual flood pulse that drives yearly peaks in fish production. In arid-zone rivers, hydrological patterns are highly variable and the influence of irregular floods on fish production and floodplain energy subsidies may be less clear-cut. To investigate the importance of floodplain inundation to a dryland river fish assemblage, we sampled fish life stages on the floodplain of Cooper Creek, an Australian arid-zone river. Sampling was focused around Windorah during a major flood in January 2004 and in isolated waterholes in March 2004 following flood drawdown. 2. Of the 12 native species known to occur in this region, 11 were present on the floodplain, and all were represented by at least two of three life-stages - larvae, juveniles or adult fish. Late stage larvae of six fish species were found on the floodplain. There were site-specific differences in larval species assemblages, individual species abundances and larval distribution patterns among floodplain sites. 3. Significant growth was evident on the floodplain, particularly by larval and juvenile fish, reflecting the combination of high water temperatures and shallow, food rich habitats provided by the relatively flat floodplain. 4. Low variation in biomass, species richness and presence/absence of juvenile and adult fish across four floodplain sites indicates consistently high fish productivity across an extensive area. 5. Similarities and differences in fish biomass between the floodplain and isolated post-flood waterholes suggest high rates of biomass transfer (involving the most abundant species) into local waterholes and, potentially, biomass transfer by some species to other waterholes in the catchment during floodplain inundation and after floods recede. 6. The high concentration of fish on this shallow floodplain suggests it could be a key area of high fish production that drives a significant proportion of waterhole productivity in the vicinity. The Windorah floodplain provides favourable conditions necessary for the spawning of some species and juvenile recruitment of the majority of species. It is also appears to be a significant conduit for the movements of fish that underpin high genetic similarity, hence population mixing, of many species throughout the Cooper Creek catchment. The high floodplain fish production in turn provides a significant energy subsidy to waterholes after floodwaters recede. 7. The identification of key sites of high fish production, such as the Windorah floodplain, may be important from a conservation perspective. Key management principles should be: maintenance of the natural flooding regime; identification of the most productive floodplain areas; and maintenance of their connectivity to anastomosing river channels and the remnant aquatic habitats that ultimately sustain this fish assemblage through long-term dry/drought and flood cycles.
© 2007 Blackwell Publishing. This is the pre-peer reviewed version of the following article: Fish larvae, growth and biomass relationships in an Australian arid zone river: links between floodplains and waterholes, Freshwater Biology, Volume 52, Issue 12, pages 2385–2398, December 2007, which has been published in final form at http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2427.2007.01855.x