Eastern Australia Rivers & Streams

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Aerial view of the Daintree river delta, Queensland, Australia.
© WWF-Canon / James W. THORSELL

About the Area

A long series of plateaus and high mountains known as the Great Divide borders the east coast of the continent. The Divide is the major source of the rivers and streams in this ecoregion. In contrast to streams in western regions, the fast-flowing waters of Eastern Australia are high both in species richness and endemism.

This ecoregion also includes the rivers and streams of Tasmania, a small island off of the coast of southeastern continental Australia.

This island receives abundant rainfall as compared to much of the mainland. Found here are numerous relict species, including many species of dragonflies (Odonata), mayflies (Ephemeroptera), and mountain shrimp (Syncarida) - the latter restricted to Tasmania.
Size:
1,900,000 sq. km (750,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Small Rivers

Geographic Location:
Eastern Australia, including Tasmania

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered
Local Species
Southeast Australia has a particularly species-rich and endemic crayfish (family Parastacidae) fauna. The most famous resident of eastern Australia's freshwater systems is the Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus). The ecoregion also includes an unusual group of gastric-brooding frogs in the genus Rheobatrachus.

A large number of freshwater snails in the family Hydrobiidae have very localised distributions within portions of the ecoregion. Characteristic fish species include the Murray River crayfish - one of the world's largest freshwater fish (reaching lengths greater than 1.5 men.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tasmanian_whitebaiteters), Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii), and Lungfish (Neoceratodus fosteri), which is the only living representative of the Ceratodontidae family.

Among the many endemic fishes is Murray jollytail (Galaxias rostratus), the primitive spotted Bonytongue (Scleropages leichardti), and the migratory Australian grayling (Prototroctes maraena), which may be the only living member of its genus and is considered vulnerable.

Tasmania has a highly endemic fish fauna of its own, including Shannon paragalaxias (Paragalaxias dissimilis) and Tasmanian whitebait (Lovettia sealii). The island is also home to 15 species of galaxiid fishes in three genera. Distinctive endemic crayfish include the massive Tasmanian Astacopis gouldi, and the diminutive Tenuibranchiurus glypticus.

Featured species

 / ©: WWF / Frédy MERCAY
Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), Australia.
© WWF / Frédy MERCAY
Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)

The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), with its duck bill and webbed feet, is a unique Australian animal. It and the two species of echidna are the only monotremes or egg-laying mammals to be found on earth.

Platypus are readily identified by their streamlined body, webbed feet, broad tail and characteristic muzzle or bill which is soft and pliable. An adult platypus is from 45 cm to 60 cm in length and may weigh up to 2.7 kg.

Surprisingly, platypus is capable of many vocalisations including a soft growling sound when disturbed. They are strong swimmers they are not fast and prefer slow flowing streams. Platypus lives in burrows that they dig on the banks of fresh water rivers, lakes or streams. They are shy and wary. Typical prey is the larvae of caddisflies, mayflies, two-winged flies and shrimps. Once caught, prey is carried to the surface in cheek-pouches where they are eaten. Adults have no teeth -- instead small, horny pads are used to hold and crush prey.

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Threats
Threats comprise construction of weirs and dams, channelisation, removal of riparian vegetation, agricultural, urban, and industrial pollution, introduced species, aquaculture, forest clearing for agriculture and timber production, and the subsequent increase in sedimentation.
WWF’s work

04 Sep 2006
Great Barrier Reef, Australia – Recovery rates of fish in the Great Barrier Reef have increased significantly as a result of marine protected areas.

According to a study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science and James Cook University, populations of important fish species — such as coral trout — are up to 50 per cent more abundant in marine sanctuaries than in reefs still open to fishing. Research done on fringing reefs around the Whitsunday Islands showed coral trout and stripy sea perch up 60 per cent.

WWF is a strong advocate of marine protected areas (MPAs). In the last few years alone, the global conservation organization has helped achieve protection for more than 200,000km2 of marine areas around the world, including the Great Barrier Reef, which cover coral reefs, seagrass meadows, mangroves, fish breeding grounds and deep-sea habitats.

According to WWF around 4,600 MPAs were designated in 2005, protecting around 2.2 million km2, or 0.6 per cent, of the world’s oceans. WWF's Global Marine Programme is working towards a network of effectively managed, ecologically representative MPAs covering at least 10 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2020.

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