Western Australian fish threatened by climate change


This video is called Wildlife of Western Australia.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Tropical fish in WA Kimberley facing extinction from climate change, researchers say

By Erin Parke

12 July 2015

Entire species of tropical fish could be wiped out by climate change, according to a research team that has spent months carrying out a study in Western Australia’s north.

The team from the University of Melbourne is looking at how sensitive freshwater species are to small increases in water temperatures.

PhD student Matthew Le Feuvre said the results were cause for concern.

“We’re finding a lot of species are living potentially very close to their maximum thermal limit, so these species will be very sensitive should the climate change in the Kimberley,” Mr Le Feuvre said.

“If water temperatures and air temperatures increase by just a degree or two, you could potentially see a lot of species fail to adapt and go extinct as a result, or at least become far more vulnerable.”

The team focussed on 18 species that are found only in the river systems of the Kimberley.

Until now, little research has been done on the river systems, partly because they are located in remote areas accessible only by helicopter or boat.

The University of Melbourne study involved eight months of trekking and camping in some of the most rugged terrain in Australia, to allow researchers to collect specimens.

“We’ll arrive at a beautiful spot in the Kimberley with a ute and a trailer fully loaded with sampling gear and a tinny, and then we basically throw the whole kitchen sink at it,” Le Feuvre said.

“We use a variety of nets, a baited underwater video camera, and we use an electro-fisher, which basically stuns the fish in the water and then you can scoop them out, which is a really useful tool for sampling fish.

“We also use traditional hook and line fishing techniques and also snorkelling, so we use a whole lot of methods at each site for a couple of days.”

The fish were packed into customised eskies for the 4,000 kilometre flight to laboratories at the University of Melbourne.

Testing Begins

In Melbourne, they were put into a flow-rest barometer, to measure the amount of oxygen they consumed as the water temperature was increased in tiny increments.

That is when the sensitivity of the fish was discovered, Mr Le Feuvre said.

“We’ve found that these species basically fail to function above 34 degrees, which is roughly the temp of the water you find in the Drysdale river in the wet season,” he said.

The Kimberley species were also considered to be highly vulnerable because of their unusually limited range.

“The Mitchell Falls Gudgeon [for example] is only found around the Mitchell Falls, so it’s only known for a couple of kilometres upstream from the falls, and a couple of kilometres downstream from the falls,” Mr Le Feuvre said.

“There’s one species from the Drysdale River that’s only been caught once… so it’s a really rare species and we failed to find it in more than eight months of fieldwork.”

It is hoped the work results in some of the species being added to a national register of threatened species.

While 20 per cent of Australian freshwater fish species are currently included on the register, none of the endemic Kimberley species are listed.

Conservation group Environs Kimberley said the research work was groundbreaking.

“So little research has been done in the remote areas of the Kimberley, and there’s so much more work to be done up there,” said Marine Projects Officer Jason Fowler.

“It’s certainly going to help build a case to protect these river systems.”

2 thoughts on “Western Australian fish threatened by climate change

  1. Pingback: New death adder species discovery in Australia | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Black-footed tree rat rediscovery in Australia | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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