Funky Food Webs

The Basin Plan objectives include the protection and restoration of ecosystem functions like food webs, 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 food webs that underpin our ecosystems, and how environmental flows can be used to influence food web health and productivity.

We are investigating which environmental flow regimes can best support the food webs necessary for successful breeding and survival of waterbirds and fish (known as ‘recruitment’). We are also identifying other ‘stressors’ that might disproportionately affect food web 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 are 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 Food Webs Team:

Team Members Biography
Paul McInerney
Food Webs Theme Coordinator
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
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.
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 food web 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.