Ecology of a potential flagship species: The Freshwater Moray


Freshwater moray habitats are the unicorns of the crystal clear coastal streams near Cairns, Australia (Photo: B. Ebner).

Funded by the Winifred Violet Scott Charitable Trust, and spare pennies, this project aims to gather basic ecological data on the elusive and poorly understood Freshwater moray (Gymnothorax polyuranodon). James Donaldson and Brendan Ebner have ongoing interest in the ecology of this fantastic creature, including investigating its life history, feeding behaviour and habitat use. A combination of techniques are used to unravel truth from myth surrounding this species, including backpack electrofishing, snorkel based observation, fixed cameras and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). Professor Tsukamoto’s team have also contributed valuable insight from otolith microchemistry relating to this eel. Additionally, our observations in captivity provide some basic natural history context for this enigmatic species. Current research is being undertaken with the help of David Boseto, Robson Hevalao, Philippe Keith, Danswell Starrs, Jamie Seymour, Rob Courtney, Richard Fitzpatrick, and Cameron Fletcher.

We contend that this species has the potential to be a flagship species for streams of the Australian Wet Tropics. In part because of its appearance, unusual behavioural repertoire and mystique. Prospective postgraduate students can contact Dr Brendan Ebner to discuss options. Any person, agency or company interested in lifting the profile of this animal, or funding relevant research should engage TropWATER.

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Further Reading

Ebner, B. C., Kroll, B., Godfrey, P., Thuesen, P. A., Vallance, T., Pusey, B., & Perna, C. N. (2011). Is the elusive Gymnothorax polyuranodon really a freshwater moray? Journal of Fish Biology 79, 70-79.

Ebner (2017). Growth, maximum daily ration and intraspecific cohabitation of the moray Gymnothorax polyuranodon (Pisces: Muraenidae) in a freshwater aquarium. Cybium 41, 93–99.

Ebner, B. C., Fulton, C. J., Donaldson, J. A., & Schaffer, J. (2015). Distinct habitat selection by freshwater morays in tropical rainforest streams. Ecology of Freshwater Fish 25, 329–335.

Ebner, B.C., Morgan, D.L., Kerezsy, A., Hardie, S., Beatty, S. Seymour, J. Donaldson, J. A., Linke, S., Peverell, S. Roberts, D. Espinoza, T., Marshall, N. Kroon, F. Burrows, D., McAllister, R.R.J. (2016). Enhancing conservation of Australian freshwater ecosystems: identification of freshwater flagship fishes and relevant target audiences. Fish & Fisheries 17, 1134–1151.

Tsukamoto, K., Watanabe, S., Kuroki, M., Aoyama, J., & Miller, M. J. (2014). Freshwater habitat use by a moray eel species, Gymnothorax polyuranodon, in Fiji shown by otolith microchemistry. Environmental Biology of Fishes 97, 1377-1385.


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