Rangelands NRM is providing a top-up scholarship to a University of wa student to help fund studies on freshwater systems ofthe Pilbara region.
UWA PhD candidate Jordan Iles received the scholarship for biodiversity-oriented research investigating the roles of phosphorus and organic matter within dry land streams of the Hamersley Basin.
Mr Iles said he was trying to understand how much phosphorus passes through the catchment and within individual pools and streams in the region, and in what forms, to better understand how aquatic ecosystems function. “Phosphorus is considered one of the main nutrients alongside of nitrogen which promote primary production (growth) within the streams and thus supports much of the aquatic biota,” he said.
Mr Iles said the type of growth can be anything from freshwater plants to algae. “A lot of these streams are quite clear, partly because there is so little natural phosphorus in these systems so understanding how this nutrient is recycled to maintain freshwater food webs will be a focus of my research,” he said.
The project is focused on the Fortescue River Catchment, and Mr Iles will be focus his attention on a range of sites between Newman and Millstream. Mr Iles said he was trying to understand the baseline science of how the system works, which would have the practical outcome of assisting land users such as miners or agriculturalists to make decisions on how they use their land and assess potential effects on aquatic systems.
“The main natural source (of phosphorus) would potentially be from vegetation and soils of surrounding terrestrial areas as undisturbed soils and sediments are very low in phosphorus in the Pilbara,” he said. “Changing land use within the catchment may affect the form and amount of phosphorus which goes into a stream .”
Mr Iles said the project would take three years. To begin with he said he wouldconduct about six field trips between March and November this year, with three or more trips in 2015. “These trips will consist of a mixture of water sampling and also experiments in the field,” he said. “So the trip I’m planning in March this year I’ll be conducting experiments to try and understand how limited in phosphorus some of the streams are.”
Peter de Kruiff - Pilbara News, Pilbara WA
05 Feb 2014 pg 15