Waterbirds at Coombool Swamp, Chowilla.

Waterbirds at Coombool Swamp, Chowilla.

Understanding ecological responses to altered flow regimes

The Ecological Responses to Altered Flow Regimes Collaboration Cluster is undertaking research to support sustainable management of the Murray-Darling Basin's aquatic ecosystems.

  • 16 March 2011 | Updated 9 April 2014


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Rivers, lakes, wetlands and other aquatic ecosystems in many regions of Australia have suffered severe degradation from the combined effects of river regulation and drought.

The recent prolonged drought (2000-2009) coupled with water extraction, produced the driest conditions on record, and coincided in a dramatic decline in the condition of aquatic ecosystems throughout the Basin.

CSIRO is working with a number of partners to develop knowledge platforms to bring together the best environmental monitoring, risk assessment and environmental modelling tools, and integrate biophysical and socio-economic approaches.

More recent rains brought welcome flows to many of these wetlands. However, CSIRO projections suggest that future conditions are expected to be drier than historical conditions, reinforcing the imperative to plan for dry conditions.

Our ability to protect, restore and sustainably manage these ecosystems and the biodiversity within them, in line with the objectives of the Water Act 2007, is limited by a lack of information about how changes in flows affect these ecosystems and the organisms within them.

There is currently an urgent need for long-term, whole of system, integrated ecosystems science to provide decision-makers with the information needed for sustainable water resource management in Australia.

Cluster research objectives

To improve the knowledge and tools that underpin water resource planning for aquatic ecosystems, CSIRO is working with a number of partners to develop the science which will underpin improved environmental monitoring and modelling tools for the Murray-Darling Basin.

The Cluster conducts research with the aim of informing the development of assessment and management tools, including:

  • development of a flow-ecology model for exploring optimisation of water deliveries to meet environmental water requirements of biota
  • characterisation and classification of flow regimes and ecological assets across the Murray-Darling Basin
  • development of responses of biota to river flows within the Murray-Darling Basin
  • priorities and protocols for monitoring the condition and trend of ecosystems and organisms to changes in river flows.

Collaboration partners

The Cluster brings together research institutions which are well-respected in the aquatic ecosystem research community both nationally and internationally. They include:

  • CSIRO Water for a Healthy Country Flagship
  • Griffith University, Australia
  • The University of New South Wales, Australia
  • Monash University, Australia
  • Charles Sturt University, Australia
  • La Trobe University, Australia
  • Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment through its Arthur Rylah Institute.

Filling up the water knowledge gap, by Carol Couch. Article from RipRap 35 April 2013.

Read more about Water for a Healthy Country Flagship.

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