Shadowy futures : the effect of turbidity on yellow-eyed mullet (Aldrichetta forsteri).
Thesis DisciplineBiological Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Worldwide turbidity is a huge concern for the health of aquatic ecosystems. Human activities on the land such as construction, deforestation, agriculture, and mining all have impacts on the amount of particulate solids that enter the world’s waterways. These particulate solids can pose a number of risks to aquatic life, but primary among them is the turbidity that they create in the water column. The way suspended solids interact with light creates cloudiness in the water which interferes with the vision, and visually mediated behaviours of aquatic organisms, particularly fish. The Avon-Heathcote estuary of Christchurch, New Zealand, is one such body of water that is subject to tremendous variation in turbidity, no doubt exacerbated by the destruction of Christchurch in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, as well as the subsequent ongoing rebuild. The yellow eyed mullet, Aldrichetta Forsteri, is one species that is common with the estuary, and uses it as a habitat for breeding. Though very common throughout New Zealand, and even a part of the catch of commercial fisheries, the yellow eyed mullet is a largely unstudied organism, with virtually no published scientific enquiry based on the species. The present work assesses how several behaviours of the yellow eyed mullet are effected by acute turbidity at 10, 50, 90, 130 and 170 NTU, finding that: 1) The optomotor response of mullet to 2.5 mm stripes drops to insignificant levels between 10 and 50 NTU, 2) The swimming activity of the yellow eyed mullet is highest at 10 NTU and drops to a significantly lower level at higher turbidities, 3) The grouping behaviour of small groups of yellow eyed mullet are unchanged by increasing turbidity levels, 4) that yellow eyed mullet do not exhibit significantly different behavioural response to a simulated predator at any of the tested turbidities, and 5) that yellow eyed mullet to do significantly alter their oxygen consumption during exposure to the turbidities in an increasing series. The results presented in these studies indicate that turbidites above 50 NTU pose a significant risk to the lifestyle of the yellow eyed mullet, potentially impacting their ability to perceive their surroundings, feed, school, and avoid predation. Future work has a lot of ground to cover to more precisely determine the relationship between yellow eyed mullet behaviour and physiology, and the turbidity of their environment. In particular, future work should focus more closely on the turbidities between 10 and 50 NTU, as well as looking to field work to see what the predominant predators of the mullet are, and specifically whether turbidity increases or decreases the risk of mullet being subject to avian predation. There is also considerable scope for studies on the effects of chronic turbidity upon mullet, which will add understand to the predicament of escalating turbidity and its effects upon this common and yet mysterious native fish.