Recruitment of a critically endangered sawfish into a riverine nursery depends on natural flow regimes

Karissa O. Lear, Adrian C. Gleiss, Jeff M. Whitty, Travis Fazeldean, J. R. Albert, Nathan Green, Brendan C. Ebner, Dean C. Thorburn, Stephen J. Beatty, David L. Morgan

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Abstract

The freshwater sawfish (Pristis pristis) was recently listed as the most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) animal. The Fitzroy River in the remote Kimberley region of north-western Australia represents a significant stronghold for the species, which uses the freshwater reaches of the river as a nursery. There is also mounting pressure to develop the water resources of the region for agriculture that may substantially affect life history dynamics of sawfish in this system. However, the relationship between hydrology and population dynamics of freshwater sawfish was unknown. We used standardized catch data collected over 17 years to determine how wet season volume influences recruitment of freshwater sawfish into their riverine nursery. Negligible recruitment occurred in years with few days of high flood levels (above 98th percentile of cease-to-flow stage height), and relatively high recruitment occurred in years with 14 or more days of high flood levels. This relationship is indicative of a distinct boom-or-bust cycle, whereby freshwater sawfish rely almost entirely on the few years with large wet season floods, and the brief periods of highest water levels within these years, to replenish juvenile populations in the Fitzroy River nursery. This has direct implications for sustainable water resource management for the Fitzroy River basin in order to preserve one of the last known intact nursery habitats for this globally threatened species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number17071
JournalScientific reports
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

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Lear, K. O., Gleiss, A. C., Whitty, J. M., Fazeldean, T., Albert, J. R., Green, N., Ebner, B. C., Thorburn, D. C., Beatty, S. J., & Morgan, D. L. (2019). Recruitment of a critically endangered sawfish into a riverine nursery depends on natural flow regimes. Scientific reports, 9(1), [17071]. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-53511-9