Rivers & wetlands


The Centre for Ecosystem Science has a strong background and focus on investigating the ecology of wetlands and rivers. We are particularly interested in the “boom” and “bust” ecology of inland river systems, focusing a considerable amount of our work in the Murray-Darling Basin and its more important wetlands. We have major study sites in the Macquarie Marshes on the Macquarie River, the Lowbidgee wetlands on the Murrumbidgee River and the Barmah-Millewa Forest on the River Murray. Various other projects cover most of the major wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin (see waterbirds). An important part of this work is investigating the relationships and importance of environmental flows for large wetland systems, particularly through the lens of different animals, plants and ecosystem processes that depend on these flows. We are also investigating relationships between flow regimes and flooding to determine long term impacts of development and options for rehabilitation of wetland systems. A strong focus is the ecology of waterbirds and effects of water resource management on their populations. The Centre also runs one of the longer wildlife surveys in the world, started in 1983 and continuing every year, the aerial survey of waterbirds in eastern Australia.

Macquarie Marshes

The Macquarie Marshes are one of the largest and more significant wetland systems in Australia. They are recognised for their conservation importance as Nature Reserve and a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. At present, the Centre is focusing on the effective management of environmental flows (currently about 300,000 ML/yr). This water is purchased by the NSW and Australian Governments in an effort to return ecological health to the ecosystem. Relatively little is known about the specific responses of the organisms to these flows and so we are investigating benefits to native fish, waterbirds, invertebrates, frogs, bats, turtles and vegetation. We are also working with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and exploring the links between flooding detected using satellite imagery and responses of different organisms. We are also investigating opportunities for managing environmental flows in the major dam, upstream of the Marshes. By quantifying these empirical relationships, we aim to assist in the evaluation of various environmental flow options at different temporal and spatial scales.


Waterbirds are one of the more obvious animal groups found on wetlands, including lakes and floodplains. There are many different groups from the large waterbirds, such as Australian pelicans, black swans and brolgas, to the many small wading birds such as sharp-tailed sandpipers and red-kneed dotterel. The Centre investigates long-term dynamics of waterbird populations and communities to understand how they respond to boom and bust cycles of Australia’s rivers and wetlands and also the impacts of water resource developments.


Changes to the darling river and menindee lakes – past, present and future

Ensuring freshwater security within Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) is one of Australia’s greatest natural resource management challenges, involving complex ecological and sociological processes and decision-making.

Lowbidgee wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin - The Nimmie-Caira

The Gayini wetland is part of the Lowbidgee floodplain, the largest remaining area of wetlands in the Murrumbidgee Valley, with Yanga National Park, within the southern Murray-Darling Basin.

A stitch in time – synergistic impacts to platypus metapopulation

The unique platypus is currently listed as ‘Near-Threatened’ under the IUCN Red List based on observed population declines and local extinctions, though significant uncertainty exists about its current distribution and abundance.

Tube fishway project

Australian governments spend millions of dollars to conserve aquatic biodiversity and fisheries threatened by water-resource development, but outcomes are poor when dams or weirs block fish migrations.

National waterbird survey

The project will develop national methodologies, guidelines and assessment protocols to measure conservation value and success of environmental water delivery to water dependent ecosystems using waterbirds.

Eastern Australian waterbird survey

Aerial survey of waterbirds provides one the few quantitative, large scale biodiversity datasets that can monitor changes in the distribution and abundance of 50 waterbird species, including threatened species, and the health of rivers and wetlands.

Feather map of Australia

A joint research project between the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and the University of NSW (UNSW), we are enlisting “citizen scientists” to gather bird feathers from inland wetlands.

Life history & dynamics of a platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)

Knowledge of the life-history and population dynamics of Australia’s iconic and evolutionarily distinct platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) remains poor.

Adequacy of environmental assessment of the proposed Macquarie River

There is increasing pressure on Australia’s rivers and groundwater resources to meet demand for irrigation and urban water supplies.

Increasing production from inland aquaculture in Papua New Guinea for food

An ACIAR-funded aquaculture project was launched on 18-19 August 2010 in Goroka in the Eastern Highlands of PNG to develop fish farming packages based on scientifically-validated methods.

Aquaculture & environmental planning group

Throughout the Asia-Pacific, aquaculture has been promoted as a means of improving income and food security for rural communities.

Understanding soil-related constraints on aquaculture production

In Papua New Guinea, aquaculture is an important source of protein for the rural majority of the population, contributing food security and income generation.

Improving technologies for inland aquaculture in Papua New Guinea

Pond-based production of Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) and European Carp is rapidly expanding in the rural areas of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to the point that there are approximately 50,000 farms.

Drying of ancient Thirlmere Lakes caused by human activities

Many of the world’s rivers and wetlands have degraded with alteration of flow regimes when their water supply is modified.

Application of GIS & remote sensing to assess sustainable mariculture

Mariculture has been proposed and practised as one of a number of sustainable economic activities in or near Marine Protected Areas (MPA) (TNC and CI, 2012).

Improving the sustainability of rice-shrimp farming systems in the Mekong

Rice and shrimp have been farmed in rotation in the Mekong Delta for 40 years. Rice is farmed in the wet season when water salinity is low.

A SWOT analysis of Papua New Guinea’s inland fisheries & aquaculture

This research project aims to identify gaps and suggest interventions in Papua New Guinea’s rapidly growing aquaculture industry, using a SWOT analysis surveying farmers and other stakeholders.

Carbon & floodplain biota in the Macquarie marshes

River red gum carbon is an important source of allochthonus carbon in naturally productive dryland riverine floodplains of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Micro-invertebrate community dynamics & flooding in the Macquarie marshes

A decade ago, researchers showed that waterbird densities, diversity and breeding declined in the Macquarie marshes as river regulation and water abstractions increased and flooding reduced.

Just add water? The effectiveness of environmental flows during wetland

Since river regulation, many wetlands in the NSW portion of the Murray-Darling Basin have been degraded or lost due to alteration of flows.

Application of motion sensing cameras as a tool for monitoring fauna

A trial to assess the effectiveness of motion-sensing cameras in monitoring riparian fauna was developed in collaboration with the Tweed Shire Council in northern New South Wales.

Captive or wild?

Using nuclear science techniques to determine whether it is possible to distinguish between captive and wild Short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) using their quills.

Brolga & Sarus crane diet comparison

Elemental and stable isotope analysis to examine dietary differences between Brolga (Grus rubicunda) and Sarus crane (Grus antigone) in northern Queensland.

Lake Brewster pelican banding

Lake Brewster, in the Lachlan River catchment, is an important site for pelicans. It's one of the few sites in the Murray Darling Basin where pelicans breed in large numbers (> 5000 nests).

Aquatic invertebrate strategies for coping with drought

This project examines the effects of drying on aquatic invertebrate communities in intermittent river systems.

Submission on Draft Lake Eyre Basin Strategic Plan

This submission focuses on the overall structure of the Draft Lake Eyre Basin Draft Strategic Plan.