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Basin Theme: Biodiversity

This theme aims to evaluate the contribution of Commonwealth environmental water to achieving biodiversity outcomes. It will focus on a range of species, including waterbirds, frogs and freshwater turtles, that are likely to have been protected or restored by Commonwealth environmental water.

Image: Sacred Kingfisher in the Gwydir.
Photo credit: CEWO

Why focus on biodiversity?

Australia’s aquatic ecosystems support many nationally and internationally significant plant and animal species. The Biodiversity Theme will evaluate the importance of Commonwealth environmental watering actions for maintaining these ecosystems and the biodiversity that depends on them. We will use information gathered at a range of scales to assess which habitats and species are being supported by water for the environment.

We will also investigate how we can support aquatic biodiversity with water for the environment into the future. We are interested in finding out more about how water for the environment can be used to protect and restore aquatic habitats like wetlands and refuge pools. The threatened animal species that depend on these environments will also be studied, with waterbird tracking a key component of our research into how animals move throughout the Murray-Darling Basin. As we deepen our understanding and knowledge, we will share what we learn through a range of data visualisation techniques.

Eastern long-neck turtles (Chelodina longicollis). Photo credit: Commons Wikimedia
Southern bell frog (Litoria raniformis). Photo credit: Science Learning Hub

Our approach

The Biodiversity Theme will combine research and monitoring data to explain how Commonwealth environmental water affects the presence, numbers and movements of animals and plants that live in aquatic habitats.  We want to understand how these plants and animals respond to water for the environment and WHY we see the responses that we do.   Four approaches will be used:

Conduct field sampling and measurements to collect on-ground data

Image: Research team member Freya out in the field collecting waterbird data.  Photo credit: Heather McGinness

Analyse data to interpret biological responses to flow

Image: Satellite tracking map from ‘Laurie’ a tagged Straw necked Ibis. Photo credit: Heather McGinness

Undertake modelling to evaluate specific ecological outcomes

Image: Flow-MER modelling team at work. Photo credit: Rebecca Lester

Share what we know with the broader community about project activities and outcomes

Image: Heather McGinness sharing findings at a Landcare meeting in Breadalbane, NSW. Photo credit: Richard Snashall

Current activities

Our team is working across three main activities:

Species evaluation

This activity will draw together monitoring data about threatened species across the Selected Areas and Basin Themes to assess which animals are influenced by the delivery of water for the environment.

Project leader: Skye Wassens

Image caption: Stony creek frog (Ranoidea ‘Litoria’ wilcoxii) in the upper catchment of the Condamine river. Photo credit: Danial Stratford

Waterbird research

Research in this activity will investigate waterbird movements and habitat use and the implications of these for environmental watering. Satellite tracking of bird movements using GPS transmitters will be an important part of this work. There is a dedicated website and social media pages where you can see updates on where waterbirds are travelling and other bird related information:

Project leader: Heather McGinness

Image caption: Royal Spoonbills. Photo credit: Heather McGinness

Refugia research

Learning and understanding more about aquatic refugia habitats, their characteristics and the species they support will be the focus for this activity. The work will locate refugia and identify how refuge habitats change over time and which species use them.

Project leader:
Joanne Bennett

Image caption: Waterhole in Northern New South Wales. Photo credit: Australian River Restoration Centre

Straw-necked ibis in flight at the Macquarie Marshes NSW.
Photo credit: Heather McGinness

Latest updates

Our team

Dr Heather McGinness

Heather is a CSIRO Senior Research Scientist specialising in river floodplain and wetland ecology, with a particular interest in the links and interactions between water, vegetation and fauna such as birds. Heather is the Theme Leader for the CEWO Flow-MER Diversity Theme and is also the Project Leader for a research project satellite-tracking the movements of waterbirds.

Skye Wassens

Skye is the Principal Scientist and an internationally recognised ecologist at Charles Sturt University specialising in aquatic ecology and the conservation of wetland dependant amphibians.

Luke Lloyd-Jones

Luke is a CSIRO Research Scientist with DATA61. Luke is an applied statistician with experience in applications in ecology, fisheries, and human genetics, including very large and complex datasets. He focuses on the development and implementation of novel statistical and machine learning methods and provides high-level analytical and statistical modelling expertise for the vast amounts of interesting data being generated by the CEWO waterbird movement tracking project and also contributes to reporting and manuscript preparation.

Shane Brooks

Shane is an aquatic ecologist with over 30 years of experience, and a passion for robust science, sustainable management and restoration. He seeks to ensure environmental water management is underpinned by the best available science, while simultaneously creating new knowledge.

Art Langston

Art is a CSIRO GIS and spatial ecology specialist with a background in landscape and conservation ecology. Art created the GIS code that runs once a week to analyse and classify the satellite-tracking data for the CEWO waterbird movements research and creates the maps that show where the birds have moved. Art now provides ongoing maintenance and improvements for the waterbird movement GIS processing, data generation, classification and mapping.

Freya Robinson

Freya is a CSIRO Research Technician working with the CEWO waterbird satellite tracking project. Freya leads many of the project’s fieldwork activities (including planning, logistics, bird survey, bird capture and satellite tagging, bird measurements and sampling, and monitoring camera deployment). Freya also facilitates the project’s lab and office work, including equipment and sample preparation and processing, data management, data analysis, communications (in particular running the project’s website and social media), literature review, reporting and manuscript preparation.

Jessica Hodgson

Jessica is a CSIRO Research Technician working with the CEWO waterbird satellite tracking project. Jessica is part of the project’s fieldwork team, leading the team’s UAV drone surveys while also contributing to planning, logistics, bird survey, bird capture and satellite tagging, bird measurements and sampling, and monitoring camera deployment. Jessica also facilitates the project’s lab and office work, including equipment and sample preparation and processing, data management, data analysis, reporting and manuscript preparation.

Dr Joanne Bennett

Joanne is a community ecologist. Her primary research goal is to discover the general principles that are essential to effectively manage biodiversity under global changes particularly land-use and climate change. She has worked on a wide range of taxa including mammals, reptiles, invertebrates, birds and vegetation in a wide of ecosystems.

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