MDB EWKR is a six year project and represents a large investment of Australian Government funding and participant's time. Accordingly, a substantial scoping and planning phase is underway at the outset of the project to ensure that the research focuses on the needs of water managers, and to establish collaborative partnerships to implement the research and build on other programs and initiatives.
Phase 1 commenced with MDFRC consulting with environmental water managers and researchers to identify priority research questions and research sites for MDB EWKR, aligned with Basin Plan and MDB EWKR objectives.
MDB EWKR aims to address Basin-wide research questions and knowledge gaps, providing research outcomes that are useful across the Basin as much as possible taking into account climatic and landscape differences. Research priorities have been determined in consultation with State and Commonwealth government agency staff involved in managing environmental water and environmental sites, as well as scientists involved in research. Four broad themes, as well as underlying research questions are proposed (see below). In each case research will focus on better understanding the processes that drive the achievement of environmental outcomes, so that learnings may be applied to different management situations.
Summary of proposed research questions
Theme 1: Vegetation
What are the factors that influence the diversity of understorey and wetland plant communities?
- How important are factors such as the area of a wetland, the diversity of wetland habitats, connection between rivers/other wetlands, and the impacts of introduced pest animals? How do these factors interact, and how should flows be managed to increase diversity?
What are the factors that influence the survival and condition of long-lived floodplain vegetation (Red Gum, Black Box, Coolibah, Lignum)?
- What flow regimes (particularly frequency, period between events, event duration) best support the survival and condition of floodplain vegetation populations?
- How do site characteristics (soil type, climate, and groundwater) influence these flow requirements?
What are the factors that influence the recruitment of long-lived floodplain vegetation (Red Gum, Black Box, Coolibah, Lignum)?
- What flow regimes (particularly period between events) best support recruitment?
- How should flows be managed to support recruitment?
- How do stressors influence recruitment and what complementary actions are required to support recruitment?
Theme 2: Fish
What are the factors that influence the survival and condition of native fish?
- How important are factors such as the availability of habitat, abundance and quality of food, connectivity between habitats, and predation/competition from exotic fish species?
- How do these factors interact, and when do individual factors impact survival/condition?
What are the factors that influence the spawning of native fish?
- Can we analyse existing data sets and new data from monitoring programs to better understand the factors that drive fish spawning?
What are the factors that influence the recruitment of native fish?
- How important are factors such as the habitat availability, food abundance and quality, connectivity between habitats, and predation/competition from exotic fish species?
- How should flows be managed to enhance these processes and native fish populations, and what complementary actions are required to manage other stressors?
Theme 3: Waterbirds
What are the factors that influence waterbird recruitment (fledging of chicks)?
- How important are factors such as the availability of foraging habitat, abundance and quality of food, connectivity between habitats, and predation of chicks by foxes etc on recruitment?
- How do these factors interact to influence recruitment outcomes?
- How should flows be managed to enhance recruitment, and what complementary actions are required to manage other stressors?
Theme 4: Foodwebs
How do food-web processes influence the achievement of outcomes for fish and waterbirds?
- How do food-web processes vary according to flow conditions?
- How important is floodplain inundation and the associated carbon-nutrient mobilisation?
- Under what conditions do food-web processes govern outcomes for fish and waterbirds, compared to other factors (such as habitat availability)?
Research approach and next steps
Research will aim to build on existing knowledge and available data. A mix of field work, analysis of existing data sets and laboratory experiments is envisaged, with methods tailored to the specific questions to provide the most effective and efficient approach.
An expression of interest process is being used to select research partners to work with MDFRC to plan and deliver the project. Submissions closed on 20 February 2015.
Once research partners are selected, the team will come together to plan the research activities, in discussion with state agency staff and other relevant stakeholders.
Research activities are scheduled to commence in mid-2015.
The final step for Phase 1 will be the preparation of a Scoping Report outlining the basis for the proposed research, a Project Plan outlining the proposed activities, and a Communications Strategy describing the proposed approach to working with stakeholders to support update of the research outcomes.