Regionalisation of freshwater fish assemblages in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia
Centre for Ecosystem Management
Regionalisations based on species assemblages are a useful framework for characterising ecological communities and revealing patterns in the environment. In the present study, multivariate analyses are used to discern large-scale patterns in fish assemblages in the Murray–Darling Basin, based on information from the Murray–Darling Basin Authority’s first Sustainable Rivers Audit (SRA), conducted in 2004–2007. The Basin is classified into nine regions with similar historical fish assemblages (i.e. without major human intervention), using data that combine expert opinion, museum collections and historical records. These regions are (1) Darling Basin Plains, (2) Northern Uplands, (3) Murray Basin Plains, (4) Northern Alps, (5) Central East, (6) Avoca Lowland, (7) Southern Slopes, (8) Southern Alps and (9) South-Western Slopes. Associations between assemblages and physical variables (catchment area, elevation, hydrology, precipitation, temperature) are identified and used to reinforce the definitions of regions. Sustainable Rivers Audit data are compared with the historical assemblages, highlighting species whose range and abundance have changed since the early 19th century. Notable changes include declines in native species such as silver perch, river blackfish, mountain galaxias, Macquarie perch, trout cod and freshwater catfish, and the advent of alien species including common carp, eastern gambusia, goldfish, redfin perch, brown trout and rainbow trout. Less significant declines are evident for native carp gudgeons, golden perch, two-spined blackfish, bony herring and flathead gudgeon. Changes are evident even in regions where habitats have been little disturbed in the past 200 years.