Dr Andrew Boulton and the ecology research team, Maules Creek New South Wales
Why it matters
Aquatic ecosystems and water-dependent terrestrial systems (such as flood plains) can be highly dependent on the timing, quantity and quality of water in streams and groundwater.
Changes in water flows can affect water temperature, salinity, and the connectivity of stream habitats in ways that can seriously damage ecosystems. To avoid this, we need to understand the relationships between the health of these ecosystems and water flow and quality are understood.
As well as studies of the impacts of changes in water flows, we need research on the risks associated with the storage and disposal of saline groundwater, which can be brought to the surface as co-produced water.
Researchers should consider how these issues contribute to the overall cumulative impacts of coal seam gas extraction and coal mining, at different scales (local to regional) and in different timeframes (tens to thousands of years).
Information on research priorities based on the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development’s (IESC’s) 2013 research priorities for ecology can be found on the Department of the Environment and Energy website: Ecosystems and water: environmental tolerances, responses and mitigation
The IESC's 2017 revised research priorities for this theme are:
|Key research needs
|1. Assessment of water-related habitat requirements for selected species and ecosystems
|Prediction of responses of species and ecosystems to hydrological change in areas with current or potential coal resource development remains a research need which is hampered by paucity of data at adequate spatial and temporal scales. Predicted responses derived from modelling approaches need to be validated using field data. This research would build on existing information (such as bioregional assessments) to articulate a set of specific hypotheses and supporting conceptual models for field-testing predicted responses of priority ecological endpoints (taxa, communities or ecological processes) to hydrological variables.
|2. Linking hydrogeological and ecological conceptual models
Conceptual modelling is a fundamental tool which facilitates shared multidisciplinary working, makes assumptions explicit and informs hypothesis generation. Hydrogeological and ecological conceptual models are usually at very different scales. Development of a protocol for linking ecological and hydrogeological conceptual models would enable identification and assessment of vulnerable biota and their ecological responses to hydrological changes associated with coal seam gas and coal mining development.
The IESC is currently developing an Information Guidelines Explanatory Note on this topic. The Explanatory Note on ecohydrological conceptual models is expected to be completed in 2022.