Everything’s Endangered: the perils of living in a GAB spring

Posted on Posted in Central Australia, finned

This week Adam Kerezsy, an aquatic ecologist with Bush Heritage Australia, gives us a run down on what makes his research so unique… 

At Edgbaston, a property owned by the not-for-profit conservation company Bush Heritage Australia, the ancient water from the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) seeps to the surface and then resides in a series of extremely unique springs.

Edgbaston is in the middle of nowhere – east of Longreach, west of Emerald – and it sits on the boundary of the Mitchell Grass downs and the area known as the Desert Uplands.

A small spring at Edgbaston. The springs have high ecological significance as they are permanent water in an arid landscape (Photo by A. Kerezsy)

No two springs are the same – they can be as big an olympic pool or as small as a bathtub – but they all have similarities. In general the water is shallow (less than 5cm deep), a bit salty, and it comes out of it’s primeval home – down in the bowels of the Earth – at a constant 24° C. When it reaches the surface things change, for on a cold winter morning the water in the springs can be close to freezing, whereas at the height of summer it can be up around 40° C .

Despite the trying conditions, the flora and fauna of Edgbaston is perfectly adapted, and unbelievably diverse. The vast majority of species are endemic, meaning they have evolved at Edgbaston, and are found nowhere else. As examples, there are at least four species of endemic plants, some of which – the Eriocaulon species – resemble miniscule versions of aloe vera (to which they are related). There are up to 14 species of snails, each one identified by slightly different whorls in their shell or the direction in which their shell opens, and there is an endemic flatworm that resembles a small piece of soft, shiny, black plastic. When a flatworm breaks in half it doesn’t die – two new flatworms emerge from the wreckage.

And then there are the fish. Two species of fish have evolved within the springs at Edgbaston, a small bottom-dwelling creature called the Edgbaston goby (Chlamydogobius squamigenus), that reaches about five centimeters, and – even more remarkably – a smaller open-water fish called a red-finned blue-eye (Scaturiginichthys vermeilipinnis) that only reaches three centimeters. As their name suggests, red-finned blue-eye are an attractive little beast, despite their highly unusual habitat and preference for extremely shallow water.

The endemic Edgbaston goby is capable of extracting oxygen from the atmosphere as well as from water; making it particularly suited to the small spring environment present on the Reserve (Photo by A. Kereszy)

Given the limited distribution of the fish, snails, worms and plants at Edgbaston, the whole place is listed as an endangered ecological community under Australia’s endangered species legislation (the EPBC Act), but red-finned blue-eye have bigger problems. Sometime in the last few decades the springs have also been invaded by gambusia or mosquitofish – a relative of guppies that were originally introduced to control mozzies. The problem is that once gambusia infest a spring, the population of red-finned blue-eyes crashes and then goes extinct.

Consequently, Bush Heritage’s biggest goal at Edgbaston is to conserve the remaining populations of red-finned blue-eye, establish more, and try and control the spread of gambusia. To find out more about Bush Heritage, and to support the hard work they’re doing, visit their website www.bushheritage.org.au

2 thoughts on “Everything’s Endangered: the perils of living in a GAB spring

  1. Sounds like a fasinating and significant place. Is there nowhere Gambusia holbrooki can’t live and create pressure on native fish…….

  2. Why dont the responsible persons, landowners and the Qld Gov environment people run a sustainable use of natural resources program to let the endemic fish and perhaps the snails and plants be propagated and sold with their story and a care sheet as aquarium subjects. Once they are sold the producer divides the monies three ways, 40% to the producer grower, 30% to the Govt agency responsible for the recovery and 30% to the land owner. A three way benefit.

    This works with non threatened species and have a look at the Wolemi Pine as a fine example of how to protect a species. Dont let those species be protected to extinction.

    Dave Wilson
    A successful small fish breeder

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