Importance of Flood Flows to the Productivity of Dryland Rivers and Their Floodplains

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Final Report
Prof P.M. Davies, Prof S. E. Bunn and Ms F. Balcombe
Environment Australia, 2003



This project used an innovative approach to determine major patterns of energy flow in a river system in the Channel Country of Western Queensland. As there has been little research conducted in rivers of arid Australia, investigating basic ecological processes including energy flow and food web structure was considered appropriate to gain an understanding of how these ecosystems 'worked'. This knowledge is pivotal to predict changes in energy flow as a consequence of flow regulation and diversion. The methodology of measuring ecological processes is appropriate and would best be conducted prior to measurements of ecological patterns (e.g. distribution of fish and invertebrates) to be able to successfully manage these systems.


The project has been highly successful achieving its stated objectives. Output from the project has led to re-evaluation of the appropriateness of contemporary ecological models for large inland floodplain rivers. The research has led to the description of a new ecological model; the 'bath-tub ring hypothesis'. The approach used in the study has been effective and will be used as a model approach to investigate other river systems.


Little research has been conducted in arid zone rivers of Australia. This is unfortunate as this region represents over 40% of the landscape and is coming under increasing threat from intensifying agricultural pursuits. The results from this study and the qualitative ecological model (the bath-tub ring hypothesis), can be applied to other inland river systems, particularly the highly-turbid rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin

Working in the floodwaters - an example of a station used to deploy equipment for measuring metabolic processes.

Working in the floodwaters - an example of a station used to deploy equipment for measuring metabolic processes.