TRaCK: Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge

Science and knowledge that governments, communities, industries for sustainable use of Australia's tropical rivers and estuaries

Research Themes

Food webs & biodiversity

People in this Theme

Peter Davies
Project Leader, Theme Leader
Prof Stuart Bunn
Project Leader, Theme Leader
Ian Halliday
Project Leader
Jane Hughes
Project Leader
Mark Kennard
Project Leader
Project Leader
Prof Michael Douglas
Director, TRaCK

Food webs & biodiversity

Food webs describe ‘who eats who’ in ecosystems. In tropical aquatic systems, the sources of organic matter that drive the food webs are largely unknown.

Researchers in this theme have:

  • identified sources of organic matter;
  • developed models that predict the effects of land use change on food webs and aquatic biodiversity; and
  • developed tools for determining environmental flows and monitoring biodiversity and ecological condition.

Food webs provide the foundation for healthy rivers. By gaining a better understanding of what drives them, we can determine how aquatic plants and animals respond to pressures such as increasing water demands, uncontrolled stock access, fishing pressure and the effects of climate change.

As a result of this work, we now have a much better understanding of the importance of floodplains, river connectivity and refugial water holes. The research also generated exciting new information on how tropical ecosystems are structured, including the relative importance of different food sources driving aquatic food webs, patterns of regional biodiversity, hydrological bio-regionalisation and conservation priorities.

Since there is currently a limited knowledge base available on tropical rivers and development often outstrips the pace at which thorough scientific assessments can be made, TRaCK has developed an online resource for people seeking more information about the environmental water requirements of tropical rivers.

The Northern Environmental Water Tool (NEWT) provides a set of guidelines to help people managing tropical rivers gain a broader understanding of how a river may respond to changes in its flow. NEWT also allows users to interrogate all of TRaCK’s research findings relating to the environmental water requirements of tropical rivers.


2011 Majalin Guwardagan-guna (Lahan Wagiman). Fish from Daly River (Wagiman country)
2011 Aquatic Biodiversity in Northern Australia: patterns, threats and future
Book Chapter
2008 Floodplains: Critically threatened ecosystems
2007 Primary production in tropical rivers
Conference Paper
2009 Seasonal contrasts in carbon budgets on a tropical river floodplain.
Conference Participation
2010 Context Dependency in Periphton and Invertebrates: Interactions between Velocity and Nutrients in the Australian Wet-Dry Tropics
2010 Extreme conditions structure meiofauna communities in the arid tropics of Australia
2010 Major Solute Chemistry as an Indicator of Hydrology in Tropical Floodplains
2010 How are biogeochemical processes differentially affected by nutrient loading?
2010 Dynamics of Aggregated River Wood and Importance as Fish Habitat in a Tropical Australian River
2010 Colonization and Use of Dry Stream Beds by Terrestrial Invertebrates
2010 Key drivers of river and wetland food webs in Australia’s Wet Dry Tropics
2010 Environmental Filters Determine Strong Spatial Concordance among Multiple Species in Tropical Australian Riverscapes
2010 The Rainbow Connection: An integrative approach to identifying melanotaeniid (Melanotaenia splendida inornata) dispersal in response to flooding.
2009 Spatial and temporal variation in density and diversity of flying aquatic and terrestrial insects
2009 Two tales of fish: the value of multiple sources of knowledge for the assessment of environmental flow requirements of fish in the Daly River
2009 Linking catchments to the coast - can the development of northern Australia negatively impact on the health and productivity of estuaries?
2009 The benefits of collaborative approaches to river research: Observations from the Daly River Fish and Flows project
2009 Fine sediment sources in the largely undisturbed, tropical, low relief catchment of Darwin Harbour, Australia
2009 Urban-based nutrient inputs to Darwin Harbour - impacts on ecosystem functioning: AMSA Conference, Adelaide 2009
2009 Environmental flows case study in the Daly River
2009 Do food chain lengths in tropical floodplain rivers of northern Australia fit with expectations?
2009 Mercury in Northern Australian aquatic ecosystems
2009 The evolutionary role of dendritic systems in structuring the fish populations of Australia’s northern rivers
2009 Impacts of fish and nutrients on riverine primary production in a split stream experiment
2009 Systematic conservation planning of eastern Australian rivers to manage and maintain bioregional variation in fish biodiversity
2009 Food, flows and feathers: Riparian bird assemblages of Australia’s wet-dry tropics
2009 Fine-scale prioritization of fish persistence in the Daly River, NT: Condition and conservation re-revisited
2009 Landscape evolution and monsoonal ecology as drivers of phylogeographic patterns in north Australian freshwater fish
2009 Impact of seasonal freshwater inflow on a benthic estuarine community
2008 Sources and fate of organic carbon in Australian streams and rivers.
2008 Isotopic fractionation and implications for stable isotope analysis of aquatic food webs.
Corporate Publication
2011 A bibliography of material dealing with the aquatic biodiversity of northern Australia, threats and impacts, and management
2011 Bibliography of source material concerning freshwater fish distributions across northern Australia
2011 Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment - Summary Report
2011 Field Manual - Including protocols for quantitative sampling of fish assemblages, habitat, water quality and sample preservation.
2009 Aquatic ecosystems in northern Australia
Fact Sheet
2010 Identifying those of high conservation value
2008 Environmental flows and ecological assets
2008 Healthy Estuaries
2008 Floodplain foodwebs
2008 Diversity of river life
2008 Waterhole foodwebs
2008 Environmental flow tools
2008 River foodwebs
2008 Estuarine fish
Journal Article
2013 Hydrological connectivity structures concordant plant and animal assemblages according to niche rather than dispersal processes
2013 Productivity, Disturbance and Ecosystem Size Have No Influence on Food Chain Length in Seasonally Connected Rivers
2013 Dynamics of in-stream wood and its importance as fish habitat in a large tropical floodplain river
2013 Data Acquisition for Conservation Assessments: Is the Effort Worth It?
2013 Prioritizing refugia for freshwater biodiversity conservation in highly seasonal ecosystems
2013 Carbon from periphyton supports fish biomass in waterholes of a wet-dry tropical river
2012 Bayesian network models for environmental flow decision making in the Daly River, Northern Territory, Australia
2012 Using water residency time to enhance spatio-temporal connectivity for conservation planning in seasonally dynamic freshwater ecosystems
2012 Merging connectivity rules and large-scale condition assessment improves conservation adequacy in river systems
2012 Assessing the seasonal dynamics of inundation, turbidity, and aquatic vegetation in the Australian wet–dry tropics using optical remote sensing
2012 Integrating multidirectional connectivity requirements in systematic conservation planning for freshwater systems
2012 Large scale surveys suggest limited mercury availability in tropical north Queensland (Australia)
2012 Uncertainty in coarse conservation assessments hinders the efficient achievement of conservation goals
2012 Leaf litter chemistry, decomposition and assimilation by macroinvertebrates in two tropical streams
2012 Fish mediate high food web connectivity in the lower reaches of a tropical floodplain river
2012 Consumer-resource coupling in wet-dry tropical rivers
2012 Temporal and spatial variation in ecosystem metabolism and food web carbon transfer in a wet-dry tropical river
2012 Effect of sewage nutrients on algal production, biomass and pigments in tropical tidal creeks
2012 Effect of nutrient loading on biogeochemical processes in tropical tidal creeks
2011 Terrestrial invertebrates of dry river beds are not simply subsets of riparian assemblages
2011 A non-lethal sampling method for stable carbon and nitrogen isotope studies of tropical fishes
2011 Climate change and its implications for Australia’s freshwater fish
2011 Landscape genetic analysis of the tropical freshwater fish Mogurnda mogurnda (Eleotridae) in a monsoonal river basin: importance of hydrographic factors and population history
2011 The “wet-dry” in the wet-dry tropics drives river ecosystem structure and processes in northern Australia.
2011 Challenges and Opportunities in Implementing Managed Relocation for Conservation of Freshwater Species
2010 Biogeochemical implications of climate change for tropical rivers and floodplains
2010 Conservation biogeography of freshwater fishes: recent progress and future challenges
2010 Historical population connectivity and fragmentation in a tropical freshwater fish with a disjunct distribution (pennyfish, Denariusa bandata).
2010 Northern Australia, whither the mercury?
2010 An integrated risk assessment for climate change: analysing the vulnerability of sharks and rays on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
2010 Climate Change Implications for River Restoration in Global Biodiversity Hotspots
2010 Seasonal contrasts in carbon resources and ecological processes on a tropical floodplain
2008 Primary production and nutrients in a tropical macrotidal estuary, Darwin Harbour, Australia.
Magazine Article
2012 A tropical protection project
2010 Ground-breaking study into aquatic food web of our tropical river systems
2010 Big Floods = Big Barras
2009 The role of sediments in nutrient cycling in the tidal creeks of Darwin Harbour
2007 Daly River fish and flows project: an environmental flows study, May 2007
2007 Daly River fish and flows project: an environmental flows study, September 2007
2011 Contribution of floodplain-derived organic matter to the diet of barramundi and other consumers in a northern Australian river, Australian Society for Limnology Annual Symposium, Brisbane, Australia (2011).
2009 Daly River fish and flows: summary of key findings - (Project Workshop, Darwin, June 2008)
2009 The significance of water flows for estuaries, Riversymposium Conference, Brisbane 2009
2009 Spatial variation in aquatic food web structure across tropical riverine landscapes, International Society of River Science Congress, Florida USA, July 2009
2009 Ecological watering requirements in northern Australia, Riversymposium Conference, Brisbane 2009
2008 Conceptualising the natural flux regime in wet dry tropical rivers, Coast 2 Coast Conference, Darwin 2008
2008 Linking catchments to the coast – can the development of northern Australia negatively impact on the health and productivity of estuaries? Coast 2 Coast Conference, Darwin 2008
2008 Seasonal contrasts in carbon budgets and ecological processes on a tropical floodplain river in Northern Australia, Coast 2 Coast Conference, Darwin 2008
2008 Age and Growth Patterns of the bull (Carcharhinus leucas) and pigeye (C. amboinensis) sharks in NT waters, Coast 2 Coast Conference, Darwin 2008
2008 Environmental flows for northern Australian rivers and estuaries, ASL Conference, 2008
2008 Environmental flows for northern Australian river and estuaries, Coast 2 Coast Conference, Darwin 2008
2011 Flow guidelines for water management agencies
2011 Priorities for identification and sustainable management of high conservation value aquatic ecosystems in northern Australia
2011 The Hydroecological Natural Heritage Story of Cape York Peninsula
2010 Flow and fisheries: River impacts on estuarine prawns in the Gulf of Carpentaria
2010 Identifying high conservation value aquatic ecosystems in northern Australia
2010 Asset update on inland waters: Top End and Katherine Regions.
2009 Biogeochemical processes and sewage markers in Buffalo Creek, Darwin
2010 TRaCK researchers contribute to the ABC Rivers project