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Conservation of the threatened Murray hardyhead: a review and next steps

  Conservation of the threatened Murray hardyhead: a review and next steps
Release of captive bred Murray hardyhead to translocation site in 2011

Full Title

A review of the biology and status of the endangered Murray hardyhead: streamlining recovery processes

Contact Person 

Iain Ellis

Funding Body

Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) through The Living Murray program


Nov 2013 - June 2014


MDBA, Nature Glenelg Trust, University of Adelaide, University of Canberra, DEPI Vic, DEWNR SA, Mallee CMA, DPI NSW, Arthur Rhylah Institute, Western Local Land Services


Since 2004 the MDFRC have worked with the following agencies to undertake Murray hardyhead (Craterocephalus fluviatilis) population monitoring, translocation and captive breeding programs in Victoria:

In South Australia MDFRC and the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources have worked together on Murray hardyhead conservation.

Murray hardyhead (Craterocephalus fluviatilis) are small-bodied native fish endemic to the lowland floodplains of the Murray and Murrumbidgee River systems. The species was historically common throughout South Australia, southern New South Wales and northern Victoria, having been collected as far upstream as Yarrawonga and as far downstream as Lake Alexandrina at the mouth of the Murray. The range of Murray hardyhead has declined drastically over recent years, largely due to the impacts of drought and human processes which impact on water quality, isolation of wetlands from the river and competition or predation from introduced fish species like Mosquito fish and Redfin perch.

The Murray hardyhead is listed as threatened under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC 2004).

Outcomes since 2004:

  • Monitoring and reporting on populations of Murray hardyhead in situ.
  • Identification and trialling of translocation sites for Murray hardyhead.
  • Maintenance of representative sub-populations of Murray hardyhead from lake populations (Cardross Basin, Lake Hawthorn, Round Lake and Lake Kelly) until either location of alternative sites for translocation, or re-watering of the endemic sites could be achieved.
  • Conservation of the species through drought.


The 2014 review project is designed to facilitate the following:

  1. A review of the current knowledge of Murray hardyhead biology (reproductive biology, population dynamics, genetics, diet, tolerances and habitat requirements).
  2. A review the current distribution and status of known (or historic) populations after the extended drought and subsequent flooding events in the Lower MDB.
  3. An assessment of the effectiveness of management strategies utilised in the conservation of Murray hardyhead, to identify knowledge gaps, limitations and future opportunities to progress recovery of the species.
  4. Develop a list of locations (for future monitoring surveys), in which important but currently undetected new populations may have become established during the 2010-12 flooding events. These may be within Icon sites (including sections of the River Murray Channel), or in locations adjacent to icon sites which may benefit from future icon site watering events or provide “stepping-stones” for dispersal into and between icon sites in future high flow and environmental watering events.
  5. Develop a list of potential translocation locations in which fish from secure core populations could be stocked to minimise the risk of the species extinction. In particular aquatic habitats located within The Living Murray icon sites will provide more secure long-term recovery sites for threatened species, given their potential for regular watering and thus security of appropriate aquatic habitat. Current strategies which provide water to isolated refuge sites with little potential for wider dispersal throughout the MDB are expensive and short term focussed. Establishing sites which are likely to provide long-term security for threatened species (i.e. such as within icon sites) is essential to long term viability of recovery strategies.


A review of the biology and status of the endangered Murray hardyhead: streamlining recovery processes

A workshop hosted by The Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre, 5 - 6 February 2014

This workshop was conducted with contributions by representatives from each of the collaborating organisations mentioned above, in order to compile the expert input required to address the five objectives of the project.