Skip to content

Studying the weird, whacky and wonderful

Published 21 Sep 2020 by Maddison Stuart

G’day everyone. Over the last year I was privileged enough to study the ecophysiology of the fish at Edgbaston Reserve for my honours project at uni. Below is a little summary of my impressions of Edgy and my work. Let me say, what a year, what a project, what a place!

Edgbaston Reserve, hidden in the Queensland outback, is an amazing place crammed full of unique life. Like many semi-arid areas, the reserve seems somewhat desolate during the dry times, but in truth you just need to know how to look because there's fascinating life on this reserve everywhere.

I spent some time there during the dry season in October 2019 and during the wet season in February and March 2020. During the dry time, there were kangaroos around my swag in the morning, frogs in the toilet, kites and galahs overhead, brown snakes on the move and a mind blowing community of little critters year round in the ancient springs.

During the wet season, life explodes, making the reserve seem comparatively quiet during the dry season.

The land greened up and there was a boom of plants, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mosquitoes the size of B-52s.

The handling capabilities of the car and all terrain vehicle were tested avoiding the hundreds of burrowing frogs that had appeared.

Burrowing frogs are wicked and in many ways symbolic of their land. They retreat to the ground during the dry times in stasis drawing down on their reserves while cocooned in soil as hard as concrete or constantly digging to escape the dry front in the soil. When the rain comes and softens the soil, there's a mad dash to break free, feed, mate, spawn and for the new generation metamorphose before the good time ends and they must go back underground.

They were pretty amazing, but I also saw a 6-foot long black-headed python that had just shed (breathtaking), planigales, earless dragons, scorpions, emus and so much more.

Some of the insects and plants I saw still don’t have a name, just a handwave at their place on the evolutionary tree. Edgbaston is home to numerous threatened and vulnerable species, some famous and some unknown. Two of Edgbaston’s celebrities are the endemic fish the Red-finned Blue-eye and the Edgbaston Goby, who happen to be two of the focal species of my honours year.

When I first heard of fish that evolved in the outback, it seemed counterintuitive. But it helps to understand the long journey through time that Edgbaston documents.

The escarpment of the Aramac range that edges Edgbaston once part of the shore of Australia’s inland sea and you can find shells forever preserved in stone in the red dust of the reserve.

When Australia broke from the other continents and drifted north, our inland sea dried up and our aquatic life had to find refugia in soon to be arid landscapes. At Edgbaston, you will find snails, yabbies, crabs, shrimp, fish and more living in alkaline water (>pH7).

When the rains come and the land floods, the springs are often connected and historically this allows for colonisation of new springs and the maintenance of genetic diversity. Unfortunately, these flood events have also provided a foothold for the invasive Eastern mosquito fish to get into the last stronghold of the endemic fish.

There was a noticeable decline of the endemic fish on the property before Bush Heritage acquired it but through the efforts of staff and volunteers, these species have been preserved.

The largest threat to these endemic fish is the Eastern mosquito fish. The main techniques for protecting the endemics include translocation of endemic fish to new springs, fencing of endemic occupied springs and eradication of the mosquito fish.

The fish have all been studied before, to varying degrees, but there's a gap in our knowledge that I attempted to fill in my honours year, which can be broken into three parts.

Part 1: understanding their environment

If you look at large bodies of water like lakes, the physiochemistry of the water is relatively stable and while things such as temperature or pH change seasonally, there aren’t normally dramatic changes over very short time periods.

These gradual seasonal changes are normally slow enough that the species living in the water can slowly adjust as sudden changes can be lethal. Edgbaston springs are nothing like that. They fluctuate so much!

The most consistent area of the springs is around the vent, where ancient water from the Great Artesian Basin bubbles up alkaline, devoid of oxygen at approximately 24°C.

Once in the spring, the physiochemistry fluctuate massively across both time and the spring itself, far more than what most fish are ever exposed to.

I measured the temperature, dissolved oxygen, conductivity and pH of the springs and saw large changes both seasonally and over 24 hours. Part of this is because of how shallow they are. My sense of depth changed rapidly working in these springs – I saw baby gobies in water only millimetres deep and depths greater than 300mm felt like the Mariana’s trench of arid springs.

As the sun baked the ground during the day, the springs changed depth and size. As water evaporated, the dissolved minerals in the waters join the salt crusts (trona) already edging the springs.

I saw water temperatures as high as 48°C and pH ranged from pH7- pH9.83. They were nearly devoid of oxygen at night and hyper saturated during the day. In the space of 24 hours, the springs have been recorded fluctuating as much as 27°C and are known to be close to freezing in winter. For many species, these sort of extreme values and fluctuation would be lethal!

Part 2: understanding how the fish use their environment

Big fluctuations or unfavourable conditions can be stressful for an organism. Humans find 20°C a lot less stressful than 0°C, but at least we have internal heat. Fish don’t and they are constantly at the mercy of the environment they live in and their performance can easily be impaired by the environment.

Many species will move to areas where the conditions aren’t as stressful. Considering how much the Edgbaston springs vary over a day, I was curious to see where each species were more likely to be found.

The Red-finned Blue-eye were hard to find consistently and it was difficult to pinpoint any conditions under which they were truly prevalent, though they seem to prefer clear deep sections but will occupy only the upper 10-40mm of the water column.

The goby were normally found in cool and deep sections, often with high pH and oxygen levels, though I did see them in extremely shallow water even at the heat of day.

The mosquito fish were unfortunately the most commonly found species, and were typically seen in deep sections, when water was warm, close to neutral and low in oxygen. If these were the conditions that each species preferred, then I’d assume because these are the conditions that are the least stressful for them. But I can’t say these are preferences, there’s not enough data and testing for that, and I believe it likely that interactions with other species plays a part in where each species is found.

The Eastern mosquito fish and Edgbaston goby are each highly aggressive species. I did see mosquito fish and goby together, but only in sections deep enough for the species to stratify. The Red-finned Blue-eye seemed to coexist well with the goby even in shallow water, but never with mosquito fish.

Mosquito fish are known for choosing habitat that is the least stressful for them, and it’s possible that their large numbers and aggressive nature against the comparatively weaker Red-finned Blue-eye might force the endemic species out of favourable habitat, into stressful areas that are very alkaline and thermally variable or extreme.

This extra stress could reduce their ability to forage, breed and ultimately compete against the invasive fish. The extent of this effect would depend on the tolerances of the species involved, and any adaptations they have evolved for these springs, which leads us to part 3.

Part 3: adaptations of fish to their alkaline environment

These springs are challenging for many reasons, but the alkaline pH is particularly difficult because it can affect the ability of fish to excrete waste. Where we excrete our waste as urea, most fish excrete their waste as ammonia.

In other environments with similar pH conditions to the Edgbaston springs, fish have developed a myriad of adaptations to survive. I was expecting something similar in the Edgbaston fish as well, but the data I collected suggested that wasn’t the case. It seems the Edgbaston fish are very tolerant of alkaline conditions but figuring out the exact way they do this will require further investigation.

Looking back on my trips to Edgy from the big smoke, I feel unbelievably privileged and humbled to be able to experience a slice of this amazing place.

I don’t miss the mosquitoes or the flies caught between my eyelashes when I blink, but memories of everything else, like frogs hiding in my equipment to beers at sunset and makeshift picnics between floodwaters, has left a mark on me.

I remember after a particularly long night of surveys I had watched the sun rise over a spring and it was magic. Watching the stars from the top of my car, the sickle moon highlighted the edges of the clouds and it was like watching the stars from below the ocean and the springs looked infinitely deep.

When the sun rose, the clouds began to burn and the land was painted pink and gold. It’s impossible to witness something as beautiful as that and not feel connected to the land.

Going back to the city, it can be disheartening when you see how disconnected many people are to the world they live in. People seem to focus on their lives in concrete jungles and dream of the life they see through their phones. For me, this highlights the importance of places like Edgbaston.

Without the important work of organisations like Bush Heritage, by the time people look up from their phones and appreciate the world, we could lose these beautiful species and places.

I think we need more people to understand how weird, wacky and wonderful our fauna and flora are.

Our land has amazing life that is unbelievably precious, unique and sometimes downright bizarre. Through research and hard work, we can learn more about how these species have adapted to the conditions in this land, what their greatest threats are and how we can help them best.

Maybe, with a lot of hard work and a bit of luck, we may turn the tide for many species and hold them back from extinction.

Home sweet home, where the night sky is never disappointing, and the wind has yet to get the roof off. Home sweet home, where the night sky is never disappointing, and the wind has yet to get the roof off.
Rain can cause flash flooding very quickly in semi-arid areas. A downpour in October 2019 flooded the reserve and the crossings back to it. Picnics on the dash are a great way to pass the time waiting for waters to recede. Rain can cause flash flooding very quickly in semi-arid areas. A downpour in October 2019 flooded the reserve and the crossings back to it. Picnics on the dash are a great way to pass the time waiting for waters to recede.
When the wet season comes, the rains soften soil normally hard enough to bend a tent peg. It can allow burrowing frogs to escape torpor, but the cracks in the clay also provide shelter for little creatures. When the wet season comes, the rains soften soil normally hard enough to bend a tent peg. It can allow burrowing frogs to escape torpor, but the cracks in the clay also provide shelter for little creatures.
Normally a cracked creek bed, the February rains turned this back to a creek full of tadpoles. Normally a cracked creek bed, the February rains turned this back to a creek full of tadpoles.
The Brolga was happy strutting his stuff without a care in the world. The Brolga was happy strutting his stuff without a care in the world.
An unexpected lunch time visitor in the shed. An unexpected lunch time visitor in the shed.
Whenever it rained at Edgy while I was there, it poured. This rainstorm led to flash flooding that overflowed crossings nearby, made the reserve inaccessible and helped bog a tractor. Whenever it rained at Edgy while I was there, it poured. This rainstorm led to flash flooding that overflowed crossings nearby, made the reserve inaccessible and helped bog a tractor.

Student research

BLOG 17/11/2022

Western Grasswrens translocated

After extensive genetic and behavioural research, Western Grasswrens from sub-populations at Hamelin Station and Francois Peron National Park were mixed together. The translocation was informed by Aline Gibson Vega’s PhD and is part of a collaboration between DBCA, Bush Heritage Australia and the University of Western Australia.

Read More

BLOG 11/11/2022

Recycling provides new homes for native animals

Tenaya Duncan, Conservation and Wildlife Biology PhD student at Murdoch University, is using salvaged pallets, fence posts and corrugated iron in a unique way – as homes for native wildlife on our reserves!

Read More

BLOG 21/02/2022

What’s in a wombat scat & why does it matter?

Bon Bon Station Reserve is home to what is believed to be the northern most population of Southern Hairy-nosed Wombats. This population also holds the distinction of existing in one of the lowest rainfall zones across the species’ distribution, recording an average of just 150 mm annually.

Read More

BLOG 06/01/2022

Restoration improves biodiversity & soil

Vegetation clearing for new agricultural land continues to cause environmental degradation, biodiversity loss and increased carbon emissions. But there are also large swathes of land no longer used for agriculture with potential to be remediated.

Read More
ichard McLellan is monitoring Sandalwood at Hamelin Reserve. Photo Shayne Thomson.

BUSHTRACKS 18/06/2021

The Great Sandalwood Transect

Across a 1500km arc from the Gibson Desert to Shark Bay, researcher Richard McLellan is uncovering the ecological and cultural value of sandalwood.

Read More

BLOG 11/06/2021

Monitoring vegetation cover remotely

I'm completing my PhD with the Spatial Sciences Group in the School of Biological Sciences at The University of Adelaide in collaboration with Bush Heritage Australia. My research will be conducted at Bush Heritage’s Bon Bon and Boolcoomatta reserves in South Australian.

Read More

BLOG 08/06/2021

Opening the door to soil

One giant void in conservation is made up of millions of tiny particles and organisms.

Read More

BLOG 12/02/2021

What if soil could talk?

Soil: often misunderstood yet critically important to a healthy planet. Monash University Masters student Luke Richards explores how we can understand soil better.

Read More

BLOG 17/12/2020

The impact of kangaroos on termites

I am a PhD student at the University of New South Wales investigating the indirect top-down effects of the absence of dingoes on ecosystems. One of my study sites includes Boolcoomatta Reserve west of Broken Hill in South Australia. One aspect I am particularly interested in is the impact of a release in predation pressure from dingoes on kangaroos.

Read More

BLOG 21/09/2020

Studying the weird, whacky and wonderful

Over the last year I was privileged enough to study the ecophysiology of the fish at Edgbaston Reserve for my honours project at uni. Below is a little summary of my impressions of Edgy and my work. Let me say, what a year, what a project, what a place!

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 16/12/2019

Afterlife in the outback

University of Sydney researcher Emma Spencer is helping us understand how carcasses might be putting our native species at risk.

Read More

BLOG 02/10/2019

How lucky I am!

I first arrived at Carnarvon Station Reserve in mid-July, only a few weeks after accepting a PhD project, which is a collaboration between The University of Queensland, and Bush Heritage Australia.

Read More

BLOG 15/08/2019

Desert carcasses research

University of Sydney PhD student Emma Spencer is monitoring life and death out in far western Queensland.

Read More

BLOG 01/07/2019

Swept away by Santalaceae

Ecologist Georgina Gould-Hardwick writes about her time spent submersing herself into Santalaceae science at our Eurardy and Charles Darwin Reserves.

Read More

BLOG 07/10/2018

Fauna monitoring with the iROOS

The University of Queensland's environmental volunteer group, the iROOS, enjoyed an amazing week at Carnarvon Station Reserve helping the resident ecologist, Bek Diete, with fauna surveys. It was well worth the long journey and has left us all glowing with gratitude for everyone who made it possible.

Read More

BLOG 23/08/2018

Predators! Keep calm, just carrion

Have you ever stopped to think, how does the provision of resources in the landscape affect wildlife patterns in general? If you add a heap of additional unexpected food resources, what then happens to the array of carrion eaters and predators, and how does this affect other smaller animals?

Read More

BLOG 21/05/2018

Night Parrots & watching grass grow

Al Healy's research at Pullen Pullen is helping us understand the benefits of fencing cattle out of key Night Parrot feeding areas - the McFloodplains.

Read More

BLOG 09/11/2017

Fauna trapping at Yourka

After a successful field trip back in September, three environmental science students from James Cook Uni returned to help with Spring fauna trapping at Yourka Reserve. The students helped set and check pitfall, funnel, cage and Elliot traps over four consecutive trapping nights, and also conducted spotlighting transects after dark.

Read More

BLOG 09/10/2017

iROOS get dusty on Carnarvon

Students from The University of Queensland joined forces with our Central Queensland Ecologist to monitor large vertebrates on Carnarvon using soil plots and spotlighting.

Read More

BLOG 30/06/2017

Fencing in the food

Do we really need a fence on our Night Parrot reserve? Fences are a requirement in pastoral rangelands and are vital infrastructure to keep large feral herbivores off reserve, eliminating their impacts on vegetation and critical habitats.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 14/03/2017

Come rain or shine

Braving monsoonal rains and searing heat, PhD student and Bush Heritage Environmental Research Scholarship recipient Justin McCann is unlocking the secrets of Naree Station Reserve.

Read More

BLOG 22/11/2016

BRUVS in Hamelin Pool

Renowned for its natural beauty and scientific significance, the Shark Bay World Heritage Area is home to the Wooramel Bank, which is the largest seagrass bank (4,800km2) in the world. It also has one of the largest and most stable populations of Dugongs, and the largest and most diverse assemblage of modern Stromatolites in Hamelin Pool.

Read More

BLOG 06/08/2016

Kirsty studies microbats

Kirsty Dixon will change your tune about bats. The University of Tasmania PhD candidate is studying microbats that call the Tasmanian Midlands home. The eight bat species in Tasmania are all forest dwelling – during the day they roost under bark and in old tree hollows.

Read More

BLOG 05/08/2016

Studying bettongs & bandicoots

In the Midlands of Tasmania there are five bettongs named Egbert, Percy, Dot, Cyril and Maud. They're not pets, but they wear collars. They're not criminals, but Riana Gardiner tracks their every move. Riana is a PhD candidate from the University of Tasmania. She's one of five students investigating how native animals feed, move and avoid predators in the Midlands, a fragmented landscape. Riana has chosen to focus on Eastern Bettongs.

Read More

BLOG 04/08/2016

Kirstin studies bettongs & quolls

Kirstin Proft is enamoured by all things bettong. She's a PhD student from the University of Tasmania. She describes Bettongs as 'weird and wonderful things... charismatic little animals, each with their own personality'.

Read More

BLOG 03/08/2016

Glen Bain studies woodland birds

When Glen Bain moved to Hobart to start his PhD, he quickly learned the calls of the 12 bird species endemic to (only found in) Tasmania, like the Green Rosella and the Yellow-throated Honeyeater. Many other Tasmanian bird species are migratory – flying across Bass Strait to the mainland over winter.

Read More

BLOG 02/08/2016

Studying quolls, cats & devils

Rowena Hamer walks through the supermarket with a trolley full of Seafood Basket, a cheap cat food. While she claims she looks like a crazy cat lady, the PhD candidate insists that it's all in the name of research. Rowena is one of five researchers from the University of Tasmania investigating the animals that live in the Tasmanian Midlands, one of Bush Heritage's priority landscapes.

Read More

BLOG 01/08/2016

Ecology in the Tassie midlands

The Tasmanian Midlands is a patchwork of colours. White sheep are peppered across a paddock. There are red roofs, silver sheds, and swathes of brown soil, cultivated for crops. The patches of remnant native vegetation appear various shades of green. From a hill top, it’s all rather bucolic.

Read More

BLOG 12/05/2016

Swags, snails & sunrises for the iROOS

In this post, University of Queensland student, John McLaughlin, shares some of the highlights of a recent iROOS trip to Edgbaston Reserve and explains why it's so important to leave the lecture theatre behind for a while and head bush to experience 'real life' conservation work.

Read More

BLOG 28/04/2016

Curtin University at Hamelin Station

Hamelin Pool is indeed one of the most phenomenal places on the planet. I recently had the pleasure of being able to share some of my favourite localities with students from Curtin University. For me it was an incredible experience to be able to share my knowledge of Hamelin Pool with a group of keen, smart students who were keen to learn and thoroughly enjoyed the wonder of the region.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 21/06/2015

Lessons in nature: our student partners

From kangaroos at Nardoo, to snails in the springs of Edgbaston, university students from across Australia are doing research on Bush Heritage reserves.

Read More

BLOG 16/06/2015

Fish monitoring array installed

All fish monitoring stations in a 90km long fish tracking array in the Upper Murrumbidgee River have now been installed thanks to project staff and some pretty dedicated volunteers. This was no mean feat, as deployment of the monitoring stations required 8-hour long paddles into remote sections of the river to ferry in the equipment, including lengths of railway iron that are used to anchor the monitoring stations in the river.

Read More

BLOG 30/03/2015

Edgbaston’s hidden charms

As part of my doctoral research I've spent a lot of time on Bush Heritage Australia's Edgbaston Reserve. I've guided a lot of people through its plains and pockets with an expectant gaze to the faces of my visitors, looking for a reflection of the excitement I feel, but am always shocked when the sentiment expressed is 'underwhelmed'. So, for my first blog post I wanted to share three tips to help one understand why I think Edgbaston is the jewel of Bush Heritage's Queensland crown.

Read More

BLOG 01/03/2015

Judas carp tagged to show their movements

Six European carp were electronically tagged by NSW Fisheries staff at Scottsdale Reserve last week to help shed light on when and where carp move along the upper Murrumbidgee River. This information is currently a key knowledge gap in the upper Murrumbidgee catchment and is critical for the better management of this pest fish species in upland river systems.

Read More

BLOG 16/02/2015

Using your grey matter on Boolcoomatta

Drive one hour west of Broken Hill. Drive past the backdrop of Mad Max II, past feral goats and frantic emus. Drive down a dirt track, cross three cattle grids and you'll reach Bush Heritage's Boolcoomatta Station Reserve.

Read More
Loading...
{{itemsInCart}} Items - {{formatCurrency(grandTotal)}}