Long and lasting: spatial patterns and temporal trends in a fish community responding to landscape-scale hydrological restoration of a coastal freshwater wetland complex

Abstract

Context

Freshwater wetlands, including those in coastal regions, are among the most important, albeit threatened, environments worldwide. Beyond protection, restoration is urgently required to halt the trend of wetland loss. Restoring natural hydrology offers potential to achieve this by landscape-scale rehabilitation of wetland habitat and connectivity for aquatic biodiversity, including freshwater fishes.

Objectives

This study assessed the response of a fish community, across pre-, during and post-restoration periods, to hydrological restoration works within an internationally significant coastal freshwater wetland complex with a history of flow diversion and drainage.

Methods

Biannual sampling of the fish community occurred across five zones of the wetland complex over the pre-, during and post-restoration periods spanning an eight-year timeframe (2012–19).

Results

The study revealed a coastal freshwater wetland harbouring an abundant (179,557 fish caught in this study) and regionally diverse (19 species) fish community, with the catch numerically dominated by native freshwater specialists and diadromous species. Fish community composition and abundance along with species diversity and total abundance responded significantly according to an interaction between zones and the three periods of restoration. Water quality and habitat parameters varied significantly in space and time over the study period, and helps to partially explain the responses of the fish community.

Conclusions

This study provides a practical demonstration on the application of landscape-scale restoration of wetland hydrology and associated rehabilitation of aquatic habitat and connectivity to benefit freshwater fishes.

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Acknowledgements

This study was partially funded by the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority (Glenelg Hopkins CMA), which was supplemented by internal funding and volunteer effort from Nature Glenelg Trust. We thank landowners and Parks Victoria for access to some sampling sites. Field assistance was provided by Luke Albury, Caleb Bachmann, Dale Bachmann, Marie Bisson, Travis Brown, Tim Carew, Daniel Deppeler, Tom Ferguson, Ruan Gannon, Dane Handreck, Toni Haywood, Lachie Hetherington, Tom Hiatt, Sheryl Holliday, Lauren Kivisalu, Callum La Spina, Ryan Little, Adam Mattner, Mitchell McMaster, Braden Mitchell, Dan McLeod, Patrick Pickett, Brien Roberts, Dave Ryan, Eddie Saievi, Michelle Sargent, Lu-Wei Spinks, Rose Thompson, Jonathan Tuck, Liam Turner, Rob Veale, Gaye Veale, Elijah Wood and Cory Young. Thanks to Jarred Obst (Glenelg Hopkins CMA) for the provision of information on the status of the Glenelg River mouth. We thank the Editor-in-Chief Jianguo (Jingle) Wu and two anonymous reviewers for constructive feedback on the manuscript. All sampling was conducted in accordance with necessary permits (Victorian Fisheries Authority General Research Permit (RP1172)) and approvals (Wildlife and Small Institutions Animal Ethics Committee Approval (09.19); National Parks Act, Wildlife Act 1975 and Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 Research Permit (10009076)).

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Correspondence to Nick S. Whiterod.

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Whiterod, N.S., Brown, L., Bachmann, M. et al. Long and lasting: spatial patterns and temporal trends in a fish community responding to landscape-scale hydrological restoration of a coastal freshwater wetland complex. Landscape Ecol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-021-01219-5

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Keywords

  • Coastal freshwater wetland
  • Coastal lagoon
  • Freshwater fish
  • Hydrological restoration
  • Functional groups
  • Ramsar