Crisis water management and ibis breeding at Narran Lakes in arid Australia

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Journal Article
Environmental Management, 2011, 48 (3), pp. 489 - 498
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Narran Lakes is a Ramsar site recognised for its importance for colonial waterbird breeding, which only occurs after large highly variable flooding events. In 2008, 74,095 pairs of ibis bred for the first time in seven years, establishing two contiguous colonies, a month apart. Most (97%) of the colony consisted of the straw-necked ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis) with the remainder consisting of glossy ibis (2%, Plegadis falcinellus) and Australian white ibis (1%, T. molucca). Following cessation of river flows, water levels fell rapidly in the colony site, resulting in a crisis management decision by governments to purchase and deliver water (10,423 Ml) to avert mass desertion of the colonies. There were significant differences in the reproductive success of each colony. In colony 1 60% of eggs hatched and 94% of chicks fledged, while in colony 2 40% of eggs hatched with only 17% of chicks fledging. Statistical analyses found that water depth was a significant variable in determining reproductive success. Rapid falls in water level during the chick stage in colony 2 resulted in decreased chick and overall offspring success. The results of this study identify the impact of upstream water resource development on colonial waterbird breeding and have implications for water management policies.
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