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Hydro-ecological relationships and thresholds

Hydro-ecological relationships and thresholds

Electrofishing Mary River near Miva: Photo S Mackay

National Water Commission

This project was funded under the Raising National Water Standards Program administered by the National Water Commission and contributed to improved environmental water management and planning through a set of tangible, science-based outcomes.

Project Category: Applied Research

Key Areas of Work: Ecosystem health,Environmental quality,River Restoration,River basin management,Catchment management,Integrated Water Resource Management

NWC RNWS Arthington Science Report

Download the report here.

Download the appendices:

Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Appendix 3

Download the National Water Commission Waterlines report here.

Aims and objectives

The Hydro-ecological relationships and thresholds project analysed the response of riverine assets to flows that were altered as a result of infrastructure development such as dams. The project, taking place in South East Queensland, also established a hydrologic classification framework for rivers in the region to assist in maximising environmental water provision.

The research tested elements of the internationally developed Ecological Limits of Hydrologic Alteration (ELOHA) framework. (1)

Project outcomes helped determine environmental flow provisions and river health monitoring requirements in the region, provided practical advice and guidance for water managers and planners, and supported adaptive environmental water management practices.

Activities undertaken

The project team undertook extensive field research - collecting ecological data from all rivers in the region to analyse fish, riparian and aquatic vegetation response to altered flow regimes. Additionally, the team identified the ecological thresholds and flow variables that together determine the health of sites within each river system.

A synthesis of existing flow-response knowledge for each ecological asset was undertaken to determine relevant hypotheses against which to analyse the collected data.

One of the project’s quantitative outcomes was improved knowledge of how different rivers in South East Queensland (and therefore riverine ecology) respond to low, medium and high levels of flow alteration.

Stakeholder engagement was critical to the success of the project and was undertaken through direct consultation, steering committee representation, conference presentations, postgraduate engagement and scientific journal submissions.

Project benefits

The practical advice resulting from the project assists stakeholders to better understand and manage flow-ecology relationships and thresholds in South East Queensland rivers. The outcomes support adaptive management processes and improve decisions and management of environmental water provision. The rich ecological and hydrological datasets compiled by the project team underpin ongoing research and modelling activities in collaboration with DERM, and contribute to national and international scientific knowledge.

Consortium partners

The project was undertaken by the International WaterCentre in collaboration with the Australian Rivers Institute (ARI) at Griffith University. The ARI project team, led by Professor Angela Arthington, worked in collaboration with DERM and hydrological data was supplied by DERM, Seqwater and private organisations.


The project commenced in January 2008 and concluded in December 2010.


(1) Arthington et al. 2006, Ecological Applications 16; Poff et al 2010, Freshwater Biology 55


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