Kimberley fishes in a league of their own

April 20, 2018

Associate Professor David Morgan

Iconic species: Associate Professor David Morgan with a barramundi – one of the most well-known fishes of the Kimberley (Pic: Simon Visser)

Almost half of the freshwater species documented in a new book about the fishes of the Kimberley are found nowhere else on the planet.

Co-authored by Associate Professor David Morgan, from Murdoch University’s Centre for Fish and Fisheries Research, the book profiles 65 freshwater species, of which 32 are completely unique.

A Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of the Kimberley also includes descriptions of species new to science, and profiles 33 estuarine or marine species that are found in the lower freshwater reaches of rivers and floodplains.

Professor Morgan said the book would raise awareness and understanding of the Kimberley’s rich biodiversity, which in turn would drive future management and conservation efforts in the face of growing threats across the region.

“It is such an important refuge for many of the large migratory fishes, such as sawfish and sharks, which are disappearing throughout many coastlines of the world,” Professor Morgan said.

“We also believe more undiscovered, highly-specialised fish species could be living in yet-to-be explored areas of this wilderness.

“It’s a real treasure trove, and it needs protection from those who want to tap into its agricultural, mineral and petroleum wealth.”

He said current threats to species included climate change, dams and weirs – which modify river flows and impact key habitats – along with invasive species like the cane toad. The poaching of species like sawfish for their unique rostra was also a concern.

“The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs of the fish species and their habitats,” Professor Morgan said. “It also contains information on where each species occurs, their evolutionary relationships, biology and conservation status.”

The book also explores the deep cultural connection between Aboriginal people and the Kimberley’s fishes including through language, art and traditional ecological knowledge.

Linguist Thomas Saunders contributes a compilation of the vast array of language names for the fishes of the Kimberley.

Professor Morgan, who has been conducting research in the region for the last 20 years, said the book complements other regional field guides for the fishes of Western Australia that have been developed and led by him.

“The Kimberley has been an amazing place to work because of its culture, the landscape, the friendliness of the people and its remoteness,” he said. “I hope I can spend another 20 years there unearthing new species and aiding their conservation.”

The book was launched at Murdoch University on Thursday 19 April.

It features a foreword by environmentalist Tim Winton and was co-authored by researchers from the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, the University of Melbourne, Murdoch University, Museums Victoria and the Western Australian Museum.

The book is available to the public through the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

The field guide was supported through an Applied Taxonomy Grant from the Bush Blitz program, a partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton Sustainable Ecosystems and Earthwatch Australia.

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