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Characteristics of the ichthyofaunas of southwestern Australian estuaries, including comparisons with holarctic estuaries and estuaries elsewhere in temperate Australia: A review

Potter, I.C. and Hyndes, G.A. (1999) Characteristics of the ichthyofaunas of southwestern Australian estuaries, including comparisons with holarctic estuaries and estuaries elsewhere in temperate Australia: A review. Austral Ecology, 24 (4). pp. 395-421.

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Data on the species compositions and the ages, sizes, reproductive biology, habitats and diets of the main species in the ichthyofaunas of seven estuaries in temperate southwestern Australia have been collated. Twenty-two species spawn in these estuaries, of which 21 complete their lifecycles in the estuary. The latter group, which includes several species of atherinids and gobies with short lifecycles, make far greater contributions to the total numbers of fish in the shallows of these estuaries than in those of holarctic estuaries, such as the Severn Estuary in the United Kingdom. This is presumably related in part to far less extreme tidal water movements and the maintenance of relatively high salinities during the dry summers, and thus to more favourable conditions for spawning and larval development. However, since estuaries in southwestern Australia have tended to become closed for periods, there would presumably also have been selection pressures in favour of any members of marine species that were able to spawn in an estuary when that estuary became landlocked. Furthermore, the deep saline waters, under the marked haloclines that form in certain regions during heavy freshwater discharge in winter, act as refugia for certain estuarine species. The contributions of estuarine-spawning species to total fish numbers in the shallows varied markedly from 33 or 34% in two permanently open estuaries to ≥ 95% in an intermittently open estuary, a seasonally closed estuary and a permanently open estuary on the south coast, in which recruitment of the 0 + age class of marine species was poor. The larger estuarine species can live for several years and reach total lengths of ~ 700 mm and some estuarine species move out into deeper waters as they increase in size. Several marine species use southwestern Australian estuaries as nursery areas for protracted periods. However, sudden, marked increases in freshwater discharge in winter and resultant precipitous declines in salinity in the shallows, and in other regions where haloclines are not formed, are frequently accompanied by rapid and pronounced changes in ichthyofaunal composition, partly due to the emigration of certain marine species. In contrast, the ichthyofaunal compositions of macrotidal holarctic estuaries undergo annual, cyclical changes, due largely to the sequential entry of the juveniles of different marine species for short periods. The ichthyofaunal compositions of the narrow entrance channels, wide basins and saline riverine reaches of large, permanently open southwestern Australian estuaries vary, reflecting the marked tendency for some species to be restricted mainly to one or two of these regions. Comparative data indicate that the characteristics determined for ichthyofaunas in southwestern Australian estuaries apply in general to estuaries elsewhere in temperate Australia.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing Inc
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