Waterbirds - Sentinels of environmental flow in the Murray-Darling Basin?

Waterbird functional group response to flows

Waterbirds utilise a wide variety of wetlands including floodplains, channels, lagoons, swamps and lakes. In Australia, 93 waterbird species primarily occur in freshwater ecosystems (Kingsford and Norman 2002) and these can be separated into five broad functional groups (Kingsford and Porter 1994) according to feeding and habitat use: dabbling and diving ducks, grazing waterfowl, piscivores, large waders and small waders.

The Murray-Darling Basin is the largest river system in Australia and supports 95 threatened species (MDBA2010), yet it is a regulated river system that has undergone severe ecological degradation (Artington and Pussey 2003; Leblanc et al. 2012). Long-term aerial survey data (AWSEA 1983-2012) shows a general decline in waterbird species richness, abundance and breeding events (Kingsford et al. 2013). To address the major over-allocation of water licenses, the Australian Government committed to a water buyback scheme where water is returned to the environment as environmental flows that aim to increase the duration, frequency and magnitude of flooded wetlands.

My study aims to determine how different functional groups of waterbirds respond to environmental flow regimes in three iconic wetland catchments: the Macquarie Marshes, Lachlan and Lowbidgee. I have three specific objectives related to environmental flows:

a. to test the functional importance of different types of wetlands in regards to individual species and functional groups of waterbirds;

b. to investigate the consistency of waterbird responses at different wetland sites and;

c. to determine relationships between waterbird communities and abiotic (e.g. flow frequency) and biotic (e.g. prey, vegetation complexity) variables.

For further information contact: Andrea Fullagar, andrea.fullagar@student.unsw.edu.au

Research Program: 
Research Themes: 
Rivers and Wetlands
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