Focussed R&D 2009-2010

Towards better ecological forecasting

The Ecological Management project aims to improve our capacity to predict the ecological consequences of multiple natural resource management (NRM) drivers, and to build this knowledge into decision support products for use in local to catchment-scale natural resource management.

The products in the Ecological Management project create capability to:

  • develop conceptual models about the links between catchment drivers and the response of biota or environmental assets, for communication and consensus-building;
  • examine the evidence base in an objective, defensible manner to test the validity of putative relationships between catchment drivers and ecological responses
  •  to underpin management strategy and actions;
  • capture, compare and analyse data and knowledge to enable reliable predictions of ecological responses to environmental and management drivers;
  • design environmental flow regimes that meet multiple individual flow objectives for supporting biota, habitats and environmental assets in a river section;
  • prioritise management efforts and locations within a catchment to meet conservation targets, or to restore conditions to meet habitat or water quality objectives.

All products have been tested and assessed within real world applications in systems across Australia for their ability to help solve the ecological consequences of flow management. Feedback received has helped progress functionality of the Ecological Management products.

Environmental Demand Model

Managers need to balance often-competing needs between the environment, irrigators and other water users. To help with this task the Ecological Management project team led by Dr Nick Marsh supported by Sylvain Arene has built a prototype Environmental Demand module into Source Rivers. The  Environmental Demand module allows the user to define environmental watering requirements and strategies for delivering water such as extending minor flows, augmenting tributary inflows or making a dam ‘translucent’. The module allows accounts of environmental water to be tracked and managed like other accounts while the water is ordered and delivered in very specific ways unique to environmental water.

DERM (Department of Environment and Resource Management) Application

The Ecological Management teams headed by Dr Nick Marsh supported by Dr Kirsten Shelly, together with DERM are reviewing Eco Modeller functionality to determine key features that are intrinsic to their day-to-day needs. Determining the life history requirements for assets such as the Banana prawn or fish spawning events will provide valuable information in terms of Eco Modeller development to best satisfy the user.

DECCW contract

Ecological Management team members and SKM are working with NSW DECCW to customise Eco Modeller for use in the Lowbidgee. Eco Modeller and its ecological response models are being linked to hydrological (IQQM) and hydraulic (SKM) models. This customisation will enable natural resources managers to accurately calculate how the Lowbidgee will respond to their management practices.

RAP (River Analysis Package) updated

The RAP helps river and water resource managers undertake condition assessments, environmental flow planning and river restoration design. The Ecological Management team recently updated the package with some advanced features to enhance the user experience. The focus is on developing an improved understanding of key ecological processes in rivers and estuaries (from populations to ecosystems), with a particular emphasis on the role of flow variability. Other research is focussed on aspects of landscape ecology. This includes work on conservation planning, the importance of refugia for population persistence and the catchment-scale planning of stream management interventions. Research is also being undertaken to generate the knowledge necessary to successfully apply products to NRM problems being addressed in real
world product trials.

Refugium Project

Research within the Ecological Management Refugium Project has highlighted the impacts of the drought on native fish populations in unregulated rivers, as well as the potential threats from climate change and over-extraction of water.The research has been led by Nick Bond with Dave Crook, Jon Marshall, Stephen Balcombe, Jane Hughes, Joel Huey, James Fawcett, Dan Schmidt, Will Shenton and Norbert Menke.

Empirical field observations and spatially explicit population modelling are together illustrating the vulnerability of populations of relatively hardy native fish to local extinction in some areas if stream flows are not adequately protected.