MURDOCH University researchers have secured an $850,000 grant from the State Natural Resources Management (NRM) office to help research and conserve three endangered species of fresh water fish native to the South West.
The Freshwater Fish Group and the Fish Health Unit study will focus on the Western Trout Minnow (Galaxias truttaceus hesperius), Balston’s Pygmy Perch (Nannatherina balstoni) and the Little Pygmy Perch (Nannoperca sp).
Murdoch research fellow Dr Stephen Beatty says the study will help gain a better understanding their migration patterns and threats to their survival.
“The work will have broad implications, it’s basically gathering information so we make sensible decisions on land and aquatic system management,” he says.
Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) the researchers will map the current distributions, key nursery areas and migration patterns of the three species in various rivers and tributaries in the South West.
Dr Beatty says finding out how these fish migrate will help them understand how they move upstream and downstream in relation to spawning and where the fish may go when a river system dries up.
“We’ll look at key refuge pools. When these systems (and in particular the Mitchell river) dry up these species will have to move back into the main channel of the rivers or to pools and billabongs that may exist on the main tributary.
Dr Beatty says by looking at exactly where these critical refuge habitats are they will be able to feed their results directly into management implications and work on protecting those habitats.
As well as refuge habitats, the researchers will look at barriers to migration.
“We’ll also be doing aerial surveys along the rivers and that will be quantifying and locating potential barriers to their migration...then recommending certain solutions such as fish way constructions which will allow these species to overcome the barriers,” Dr Beatty says.
He says this study is important because these fish are vulnerable and little is known about them, in particular the Little Pygmy Perch which was only discovered in 2009.
“A lot of these freshwater fish species have slipped under the radar in terms of dollars for research—they’re cryptic.”
The study will be run over three years and is a collaborative effort between the Department of Fisheries, Murdoch University, the University of Western Australia Albany, the Department of Water, the Department of Environment and Conservation and South Coast NRM along with other regional catchment groups.