One of Australia's most significant wetlands, the Coorong, at the mouth of the River Murray, is the focus of a new multi-million dollar research partnership that aims to improve the ecological health of the region and protect threatened birds and fish.
CSIRO, through the Water for a Healthy Country Flagship, is partnering with the University of Adelaide, Flinders University and the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) Aquatic Sciences, to study the ecology of the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth region. This collaborative research program (CLLAMMecology) will receive $2.2 million from the CSIRO Collaboration Fund, with a total investment of $5.3 million over three years.
The Collaboration Fund enables the skills of the wider Australian research community to be applied to the major national challenges targeted by CSIRO's Flagship Initiative.
Led by Dr Mike Geddes of the University of Adelaide, the multidisciplinary research team will carry out a detailed study of the ecology of the Coorong, the Lower Lakes and the Murray Mouth ecosystems.
"Despite its status as a Ramsar-listed wetland and a "Living Murray" icon site, the Coorong is in a bad way," Dr Geddes said. "There's serious ecological degradation and hypersalinity is threatening various species of fish and birds. The Coorong is particularly significant for many species of migratory waterbirds."
A number of management initiatives are underway to halt and reverse the degradation of the Coorong, such as the Murray-Darling Basin Commission's "Living Murray Initiative". However, planning remediation action is currently hampered by limited understanding of the relationships between the water and salinity regimes of the region and ecological responses.
"This will be the first comprehensive research program for this estuary and will be one of the largest of its kind in Australia, especially for the ecology of estuarine fish and waterbirds," said Dr. Sebastien Lamontagne, research leader, CSIRO.
The field component of the research program will study in detail the ecological responses observed during planned water regime manipulations, in particular, the release of water from the Lower Lakes barrages to the Murray estuary. The information gathered will be used to develop improved models to predict ecological responses to future climate and water management scenarios.
The Cluster will be involved in four key research activities, these include documenting the responses of key species to changes in aquatic environments under different management regimes. The study will look at a range of species, including those of conservation value (migratory waders), ecosystem value (aquatic plant) or recreational value (black bream or mulloway) for the region.
Linked to this will be examining the effects of increased water flows and whether these lead to increased productivity in the food-chain. The research will also examine food-webs and explore how energy is transferred through estuarine invertebrates to fish and birds.
The study will produce a dynamic model of the extent and quality of the habitats, such as the mudflats extensively used by waders, enabling researchers and water managers to predict the impact of future changes in the water regime.
Dr Geddes said the study aims to deliver a set of ecosystem-level models which can be used to evaluate alternative future scenarios within the larger Coorong region.
In combination with other research projects led by CSIRO, these ecological models will help water managers better evaluate the social, environmental and economic trade-offs between different water management scenarios for the region.
CLLAMMecology research partners include CSIRO, the University of Adelaide, Flinders University (through the Flinders Research Centre for Coastal & Catchment Environments), SARDI Aquatic Sciences, and the South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage.
A number of management agencies are supporting the development of the program, including the SA Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation, the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Land and Water Australia and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.
Funding for the research was announced recently by The Minister for Education, Science and Training, Julie Bishop, under the Flagship Collaboration Fund Cluster funding. The Fund is designed to facilitate the involvement of the wider Australian research community in addressing the critical national challenges targeted by the Flagships.
As part of the $305 million over seven years provided by the Australian Government to the National Research Flagships, $97 million was specifically allocated to further enhance collaboration between CSIRO, Australian universities and other publicly funded research agencies.