Interview with Rhonda Butcher on Rheophilia

My latest interview on Reophilia is with Dr Rhonda Butcher, where she describes her rather meandering career as a wetland ecologist and environmental consultant. We talk about her early work at the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre in the 1980s with Terry Hillman, John Hawking, Russ Shiel and others, her collaboration with Alan Yen and Richard Marchant at the National Museum in Melbourne, her PhD at Monash under Sam Lake’s supervision, and various serendipitous events that led her to become a well-respected environmental consultant in freshwater, as she heads Water’s Edge Consulting.

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Interview with Gavin Rees on my YouTube channel Rheophilia

Today I have launched my first from a series of interviews with freshwater ecologists on my YouTube channel Rheophilia.

The brave guineapig was Dr Gavin Rees, microbiologist and food-web enthusiast, from CSIRO’s Land & Water. In our wide-ranging interview, Gavin tells of the origins of his passion for microbiology in New Zealand in the 1980s, his move to Australia and his subsequent reasearch career in river ecology. Thanks Gavin for being such a good sport.

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Will Cuppy and his thought on fysh(es) and other animals


Will Cuppy (1884-1949) was an American satirist, humorist and literary critic, who, among other things, wrote lively, satirical articles about animals and history for the New York Herald Tribune and its predecessor for 23 years. I discovered him purely by accident, while browsing through a book of quotes in the National Library of Australia. Finding one of his books, I began to read, and couldn’t help but laugh out loud. The books’ titles are fabulous, and give you an idea of what you will find inside: How to Become Extinct, How to Attract the Wombat, The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes, and others. I was particularly taken by his articles about animals, as you can imagine.

I have decided to read and record the chapters from his book How to Become Extinct and post them on YouTube. I will do this sporadically, as the fancy takes me. I hope you like them. Click on the YouTube link to access the first one: Fish and Democracy (It goes for about 7 minutes) and feature an illustration for the chapter by William Steig.

For more on his life, read this article Celebrating Will Cuppy – Satirist extraordinaire, by Simanaitis Says.

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Fish and river concerns in 1925’s Australia

Fred Lewis about fish 3

Photograph in Fred Lewis’ Fish and Fishing Waters, 1925

While undertaking research on other matters, I stumbled – thanks to the inimitable Gilbert Percy Whitley – on a chapter in Sir James Barrett’s 1925 book Save Australia: a plea for the right use of our flora and fauna (Macmillan and Co. Ltd. London), By Fred Lewis, entitled Save Australia: Fish and Fishing Waters. Continue reading

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The Life and Times of the Murray Cod: a book

Murray cod in water Mullaroo Creek

Murray cod in Mullaroo Creek, 2004

Hi all, I wanted to let you all know that I am just starting to research and write a book entirely devoted to Murray cod. It is tentatively called: ‘The Life and Times of the Murray Cod’, to be published by CSIRO Publishing.

It will included details of the species’ origins, Indigenous and European significance, biology, fishing (both recreational and commercial), conservation and management, and prospects for the future. It is targeted at the interested general public, people interested in natural history, Indigenous groups, fishers, high-school students and anyone who is a fan of or interested in knowing more about this iconic species.

It will NOT be a fishing book….although fishers will find a lot in there for them.


Now, why I am writing this post, is that in the book, I plan to have a chapter on Indigenous cultural, fishing, and other significance of Murray cod. I would like to write this chapter in collaboration with one, two or three or more Aboriginal people, who have a particular interest in these aspects of Murray cod. So, can anyone reading this post, please put the word out there for people who might be keen to be involved to get in contact with me. I want the voice to be an Aboriginal voice and the words to be Aboriginal words and the ideas and priorities to Aboriginal ideas and priorities. I had to propose a brief structure of each chapter when pitching the idea to CSIRO Publishing, but that can change to be more appropriate.


You can either post a comment here or email me at or even try calling me on (02) 60519920 at Charles Sturt University.

Looking to hearing from you, Paul Humphries, August 17, 2019.

Posted in Aboriginal fishing, Environmental history, Fish Ecology, Freshwater fish, Historical ecology, Murray cod | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Life history: a key part of the conservation and management of river fish

Growth rings on a100 day-old Australian smelt otolith

Growth rings on a100 day-old Australian smelt otolith

A few years ago, I was asked to comment on plans for environmental flow releases to sustain populations of river fish in south-eastern Australia. The authorities had already decided on the target fish species: understandably, recreational fishes, and some small, threatened fishes. When I asked over the phone – reasonably, I thought – how the decision-makers had taken into account life history in their choice of target species, I was told that they hadn’t, and didn’t see how life history was relevant. My exasperated response was: “How can you not consider life history? It is all about life history!” The person on the other end of the line made some incoherent mumbling sounds, clearly didn’t know how to respond and hung up soon after. That was the last I heard from them. Continue reading

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Carp control using the herpesvirus needs some more thought…and research

Live carp in a drying wetland in the Murray-Darling Basin (Photo: Keller Kopf)

A recent paper in the journal Biological Invasions, led by Keller Kopf, and co-authored by me, and other Australian and international experts on fish, biocontrol and virology, asks difficult but important questions about the efficacy of the proposed release of the carp herpesvirus (CyHV-3). Continue reading

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Flow-fish recruitment research

New research is underway as part of the Murray-Darling Environmental Water Knowledge and Research program, which is investigating how flow influences the key environmental conditions and interacts with fish species traits to enable recruitment of riverine fishes. It is a collaboration among a range of organisations across the Murray-Darling Basin, and involves a synthesis of existing knowledge and development of a new recruitment model, and field and laboratory work to test some of the key hypotheses. Read more about it here..

Posted in Australia, Fish Ecology, Freshwater fish, River conservation, River ecology, River research | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Two river fish/food web PhD scholarships available

Two PhD scholarships are available through the School of Environmental Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Albury, Australia to investigate aspects of fish and food webs in Murray-Darling Basin rivers:

  • Trophic dynamics of native and non-native fishes of the Murray-Darling Basin
  • Maternal environment and trait effects on offspring survival in freshwater fishes

Advertiser: Charles Sturt University

Location: Albury, NSW Australia

Salary: Stipend: $27,082 (tax free) per year over 3 years

Two exciting opportunities exist to carry out a PhD project in the School of Environmental Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Albury NSW Australia. The scholarships are available to support Post Graduate students undertaking research projects that include, but are not limited to:

  • Field and laboratory studies focused on trophic interactions between invasive common carp and native fishes;
  • Stable isotope and fatty acid analyses on fish tissues;
  • Statistical modelling of food web interactions;
  • Laboratory experiments examining variation in growth and survival of larvae;
  • Global desktop analyses of fish traits using large databases

As well as an annual stipend ($27,082) and operating funds (up to $5000 per year) to support travel and fieldwork, successful applicants will have the opportunity to engage with natural resource managers and scientists at other research organisations to develop their respective projects. If successful, tuition and fees will be covered by the scholarship for a period of three years.

Potential candidates will need a First Class Honours, or a Masters degree with a research component.

Send an expression interest (including a CV and a cover letter) outlining your experience and research interests to Dr R. Keller Kopf, Charles Sturt University: email: (phone: 02 6051 9294). Applicants are encouraged to visit the Institute for Land Water and Society Fish Ecology Collaborative Research Unit webpage and contact R. Keller Kopf before submitting an expression interest.

Successful applicants will need to apply through Charles Sturt University for a relevant scholarship for doctoral studies e.g. Australian Post Graduate Award (APA), ILWS or International Postgraduate Research Scholarship. Further details are at:

Expressions of interest close 24 October 2017.

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Invasive species control: risks and rewards

Widespread invasive species control is a risky business

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Partula snails were driven to extinction in the wild by introduced predators.
Wikimedia Commons

R. Keller Kopf, Charles Sturt University; Dale Nimmo, Charles Sturt University, and Paul Humphries, Charles Sturt University

In 1977, on the islands of French Polynesia, government authorities released a predatory snail. They hoped this introduction would effectively control another species of invasive snail, previously introduced to supply escargot. The Conversation

Instead, by the early 1980s, scientists reported alarming declines of native snail populations. Within ten years, 48 native snail species (genus Partula) had been driven to extinction in the wild.

The extinction of the Partula is notorious partially because these snails were, before going extinct, the study subjects of the first test in nature of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

In the decades since, attempts to control and eradicate invasive species have become common, generally with far better results.

However, our paper, published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution, highlights the importance of scientific evidence and independent assessments when deciding whether to control or eradicate invasive species. Continue reading

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