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Australian endangered species: Desert gobies

Gobies are one of the largest and most widespread fish families in the world, but even so, the presence of endemic species in the Great Artesian Basin spring complexes of central Australia is a little…

Male gobies are like peacocks. This is the Edgbaston Goby. Adam Kereszy

Gobies are one of the largest and most widespread fish families in the world, but even so, the presence of endemic species in the Great Artesian Basin spring complexes of central Australia is a little surprising. Some of these habitats are more like damp swamps than watery oases, and many are no bigger than a kitchen table.

As a consequence, the gobies that inhabit them are small – no bigger than five or six centimetres – and have the ability to extract oxygen from the air when the springs dry back.

There are five species overall, but all are very similar and their speciation is a result of isolation in separated habitats. What this means is that the Edgbaston Goby, (Chlamydogobius squamigenus) has been ecologically marooned in the springs at Edgbaston in central western Queensland, while the Elizabeth Springs Goby, (Chlamydogobius micropterus) has similarly been stuck at Elizabeth Springs 400-plus kilometres to the south-west. Other relatives are distributed through South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Although they have different names and live in different localities, the various central Australian gobies have much in common. The males are vividly coloured, with a noticeable blue, black and white splash on their dorsal fins.

The males also guard the clutches of eggs, circulating water over them with their fins and tails until they hatch. And, like all gobies, they spend the majority of the time resting on the fused fins on their underside.

Status

Both goby species found in springs in Queensland are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN and endangered under Queensland legislation. Under the federal EPBC Act the Elizabeth Springs Goby is listed as endangered and the Edgbaston Goby is listed as vulnerable.

Elizabeth Springs, like all Great Artesian Basin springs, are threatened by extraction and feral animals. Adam Kereszy

Threats

All gobies (and also all the other endemic plants and animals from Great Artesian Basin springs) are threatened by aquifer drawdown (from extractive water use) and the disruption and destruction from feral and domestic animals.

The Edgbaston Goby is also under threat from the introduced live-bearing fish Gambusia or Mosquitofish which is also present in the springs at Edgbaston.

Strategy

The spring complex at Edgbaston was purchased by the conservation not-for-profit Bush Heritage Australia, and the spring complex at Elizabeth Springs is a national park. This affords Queensland’s endangered spring gobies a measure of protection as these organisations do their best to keep stock and feral animals away from the fragile spring habitats.

At Edgbaston, Bush Heritage Australia has also been developing techniques to control Gambusia, which is also helping the critically endangered Red-finned Blue-eye.

Conclusion

Both Elizabeth Springs Goby and Edgbaston Goby rightfully deserve listing as endangered species due to their limited ranges and specific habitat requirements.

At present, the Edgbaston Goby is under more direct threat than Elizabeth Springs Goby. This is thanks to Gambusia that are found in massive numbers in some of the springs where they have invaded. Observations over the last five years suggest that as Gambusia populations increase, goby populations decrease – a similar situation to the competition and exclusion of Red-finned Blue-eye.

The Conversation is running a series on Australian endangered species. See it here

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4 Comments sorted by

  1. Keith Thomas

    Retired

    Thanks, Adam - for this article, for the pics and for the work you are doing through Bush Heritage Australia. Your photograph of Elizabeth Springs made me very jealous of the time you can spend there.

    How did the gambusia get there? And what form does the 'competition' from them which threatens this little Aussie battler take - do the gambusia eat them? Spread disease to them? Or are they more assertive in going after the main food of the gobies?

    And what do you do to help limit the threat from the gambusia?

    Any way, all the best.

    report
  2. Adam Kerezsy

    Adjunct Research Fellow at Griffith University

    Thanks Keith and apologies for the delay in replying,

    Just to clarify: at spring group scale, gambusia are in the Edgbaston complex, which itself is part of the larger Barcaldine supergroup, but not in Elizabeth Springs.

    At catchment scale, this is because gambusia are in the Cooper catchment but not the Diamantina.

    The Edgbaston springs are located in the upper Thomson sub-catchment, part of the Cooper catchment.

    So it's likely that the initial colonisation occurred during a big flow…

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    1. Keith Thomas

      Retired

      In reply to Adam Kerezsy

      Thanks, Adam. Best of luck mate. As a city dweller and retired I'm delighted there are people like you out there working for our biodiversity.

      The Conversation at work.

      report
    2. Liz Minchin

      Queensland Editor at The Conversation

      In reply to Keith Thomas

      Hello Keith, I hope I've got the right Keith (there are two with your name registered but I'm hoping I've picked the right one)

      Did you write this on Crikey recently? I'm not a Crikey subscriber so just came across it by chance, and wanted to say I'm passing it on - we're always talking about how we can improve 'the conversation' on our comments, and I think there are some good ideas in this. I do know we can't 'require' authors to participate in comments - our authors write for us for free, and…

      Read more