Funky Foodwebs

The Basin Plan objectives include the protection and restoration of ecosystem functions like foodwebs, connectivity, and nutrient cycling. While all ecosystem functions are important, there is growing evidence to suggest that changing flows have affected the production and availability of food to support native fish and waterbirds. When we talked to water managers about these issues, they wanted to know more about the foodwebs that underpin our ecosystems, and how environmental flows can be used to influence foodweb health and productivity.

We are now investigating which environmental flow regimes can best support the foodwebs necessary for successful breeding and survival of waterbirds and fish (known as ‘recruitment’). We are also identifying other ‘stressors’ that might disproportionately affect foodweb processes related to fish and waterbird recruitment, for example, land-use change, invasive species, water quality and habitat availability.

How our food web work fits within the Basin Plan 


By improving our understanding of food web responses to environmental flows, managers will be able to:

  • Improve quantification of waterbird and fish recruitment water requirements.
  • Identify food sources critical to fish and waterbird recruitment.
  • Identify ecosystem components or habitats that are critical to achieving environmental flow outcomes.
  • Evaluate the outcomes of possible flow scenarios and management interventions.

You can find out more about our work on food webs in our video below, and in our story featured in the RipRap Magazine Thrive: nature, water and wellbeing.

Our MDB EWKR Foodweb Team:

Team Members Biography
Paul McInerney
Food Web Theme LeaderMDFRC/ La Trobe University
Paul McInerney is a freshwater ecologist interested in the influence of riparian plants on stream ecology, invasive species and aquatic macroinvertebrate ecology.
Nick Bond

MDFRC/ La Trobe University

His primary interests are in the effects of flow variability on riverine ecosystems, especially the landscape scale effects of floods and droughts. His research combines empirical field studies with innovative quantitative modelling approaches. He has extensive experience working on river management and environmental flow issues in Australia and internationally, and has authored or co-authored more than 50 peer-reviewed papers and numerous peer reviewed technical reports.
Ben Gawne

University of Canberra

Ben Gawne is currently Professor of Environmental Flows within the Institute of Applied Ecology at the University of Canberra.  Ben’s research interests include:

  • Lowland river ecology
  • Primary productivity and decomposition
Rebecca Lester

Deakin University

Rebecca has expertise in freshwater, estuarine and coastal ecosystems. Her recent research developed ecological response models and environmental water requirements for the Coorong and Lower Murray Lakes, and contributing to the Murray-Darling Basin Planning process.  Rebecca’s research interests include ecosystem ecology, particularly in aquatic ecosystems, ecological restoration and science-based natural resource management, with an emphasis on applied techniques suitable for use outside conservation reserves and large spatial scales.
Darren Ryder

University of New England

Darren is currently Leader of the Aquatic Ecology and Restoration Research Centre at the University of New England. He has over 18 years experience in research in aquatic ecosystems in coastal and inland rivers and wetlands of eastern Australia. His research has focussed on the effective management and restoration of freshwater ecosystems and covers areas such as:

  • Design and implementation of monitoring programs to assess the ecological health of wetland, river and estuarine ecosystems.
  • Biogeochemistry and ecosystem function of aquatic systems.
  • Biodiversity and foodweb analysis of aquatic systems.
  • Design of best-practice models for river restoration and assessing ecological outcomes of on-ground restoration practices.

Ross Thompson

University of Canberra

Ross is a community and ecosystem ecologist, working primarily on freshwaters. His research has an emphasis on the study of biodiversity, food web structure and the restoration of landscapes. Ross’ fundamental research is in food web ecology; seeking the rules that determine how natural communities assemble and persist. His applied research addresses the ways in which food webs can be influenced by climate change, toxins and invasive species, and how we can restore and protect biodiverse communities in human-impacted landscapes.