Diet of Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii) (Mitchell) larvae in an Australian lowland river in low flow and high flow years
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Researchers have hypothesised that influxes of pelagic zooplankton to river channels after floods and high flows are necessary for strong recruitment of some native fish species, including Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii) (Mitchell), in the Murray–Darling river system, Australia. This study investigated the composition of the diet and gut fullness of drifting Murray cod larvae weekly during two spawning seasons with contrasting flows, to determine if pelagic zooplankton comprised a greater proportion of the gut contents and guts were fuller in a high flow (2000) than in a low flow (2001) year. Gut fullness and yolk levels of 267 larvae were ranked, and prey identified to family level. Approximately 40 and 70% of individuals had been feeding in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Gut fullness increased with declining yolk reserves. Larvae in both the years had an almost exclusively benthic diet, irrespective of the flow conditions at the time. Substantial inundation of dry ground in 2000, albeit restricted to in-channel benches, anastomosing channels and oxbow lakes, did not lead to an influx of pelagic, floodplain-derived zooplankton subsequently exploited by Murray cod larvae. These results have the implications for the management of regulated temperate lowland rivers: high flows cannot automatically be assumed to be beneficial for the fish larvae of all species and their food resources, and caution should be exercised with the timing of flow releases.