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.
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.
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