Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 54, Issue 4, pp 389-404

First online:

Fishes of floodplain habitats of the Fly River system, Papua New Guinea, and changes associated with El Niño droughts and algal blooms

  • Stephen SwalesAffiliated withEnvironment Department, Ok Tedi Mining Ltd.
  • , Andrew W. StoreyAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, The University of Western Australia
  • , Ian D. RoderickAffiliated withEnvironment Department, Ok Tedi Mining Ltd.
  • , Boga S. FigaAffiliated withEnvironment Department, Ok Tedi Mining Ltd.

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Biological monitoring of the Fly River system in Papua New Guinea has shown that floodplain habitats (oxbow lakes, blocked valley lakes and seasonally inundated grassed floodplain) support diverse and abundant populations of freshwater fishes. Since monitoring first commenced in the early 1980's, a total of 66 fish species representing 33 families has been sampled, with gillnets and rotenone, from a range of sites located on the floodplains of the Fly and Strickland rivers. The fish fauna was dominated by catfishes in the families Ariidae (11 species) and Plotosidae (7 species), with aquatic invertivores being the dominant feeding group. Herring species (Nematalosa spp.) were often very abundant in the oxbow lakes, forming 66% of the total catch in all the floodplain habitats. The fish communities in the oxbow lakes and blocked valley lakes were distinctly different, with several of the smaller fish species being more abundant in the blocked valley lakes, while the oxbow lakes supported more of the larger predatory species. Catches in the oxbow lakes were also generally higher and more diverse than the blocked valley lakes or grassed floodplain sites. Since the commencement of monitoring, catches from the floodplain sites have varied considerably, both spatially and temporally. Reduced catches seen at some sites are probably associated with natural climatic factors, particularly ‘El Niño’-induced droughts and algal blooms. Introduced species and increased commercial and artisanal fishing may also be affecting stocks of native fish. Fish populations were shown to recover only slowly in lakes affected by severe drought conditions, with extensive mats of floating grasses hindering fish recolonisation. Fish stocks in a lake affected by an algal bloom recovered more quickly than stocks in lakes affected by drought.

oxbow lakes fish catches biomonitoring species richness Strickland River