Restoring a functioning Coorong food web

News Title:

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Project Partners:

Flinders University, The University of Adelaide, and Other

Research Theme:

N/A

Status:

Project Overview

A functioning and resilient food web is critical to the ecological character of the Coorong, and is fundamental in the production and supply of energy to key biota, including waterbirds and fish. Freshwater inflows from the River Murray are considered highly beneficial to the food web structure of the Coorong, including providing a diversity of habitats (e.g. salinity gradient along the length of the Coorong); however, the ecological importance of the South-East flow is currently not known. Under suitable salinity, water level and nutrient conditions in the Coorong, the trophic productivity supports a diversity of biota across multiple trophic levels (Brookes et al. 2009, Deegan et al. 2010). Historically, the South Lagoon supported a diversity of waterbirds.

Recent conditions in the Coorong, including changes in the water level, salinity regime and potentially nutrient dynamics have altered the community composition of key food resources in the Coorong, including macroinvertebrates and aquatic plants, which are important ecological components and potential food sources for fish and waterbirds. There is limited understanding of the pathways by which nutrients pass from primary producers to waterbirds (Brookes et al. 2018), which limits our ability to predict the food web dynamics and ecological responses of some key biota, including fish and waterbirds, to changing conditions and management actions (e.g. including flow from the South-East and River Murray).

Progress Update and Key Findings

This Component is addressing two key questions:

  • How should barrage inflows, South East flows and the Murray Mouth dredging regime be managed in order to restore a functioning South Lagoon food web that supports diverse and abundant waterbirds and fish, including those species historically abundant or present?
  • What are the implications of any proposed future management interventions on the food web that supports waterbirds and fish?

To answer these, the following research questions are being addressed:

  • What are the primary food sources and their relative importance for key fish and waterbird species in the Coorong?
  • What is the food availability (food resource abundance, productivity, biomass, and nutritional value) and how is this influenced by key environmental factors?
  • Are harvestable food resources meeting the energy demands of key species?
  • What food resources are required to restore/support a productive and resilient Coorong food web, particularly in the South Lagoon?

Project Impacts

Investigations are being conducted to:

  • identify key food resources (e.g. invertebrates, small-bodied fishes) for waterbirds and fish
  • determine food resource habitat requirements and key environmental effects on their spatial and temporal trends (i.e. abundance, biomass, distribution)
  • quantify the trophic links, also including food resource availability and accessibility, and bioenergetic quality.

This project has four key Activities to achieve these objectives:

  • Activity 3.1 Review, synthesis and conceptual food web models – to review the literature and data to develop conceptual food web models for the Coorong (with a focus to gain understanding of the southern Coorong).
  • Activity 3.2 Diet and food consumption of key species – to investigate the major food sources and their relative contribution to the diet) for key waterbird and fish species.
  • Activity 3.3 Bioenergetics and key drivers for food resource availability – to investigate food resource abundance, productivity, biomass, energy content and availability, and the influence of key environmental factors.
  • Activity 3.4 Quantitative food web models – to develop an integrated quantitative food web model for the Coorong ecosystem.

Research Outputs

A synthesis of current knowledge of the food web and food resources for waterbird and fish populations in the Coorong

Healthy Coorong, Healthy Basin: 4. Food Webs

Ecosystem models to inform the development of strategies to restore a functioning South Lagoon food web in the Coorong

Primary food resources for key waterbirds and benthic fish in the Coorong

Food resource availability, energy content and nutritional value of major food sources for key fish and waterbird species under varying environmental conditions in the Coorong

Project News