Species of the month: Utchee Creek rainbowfish

Maiko and Nick have been busy undertaking Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) listing assessments as part of Species Expert Assessment Plans (SEAPs) for Australian freshwater fish and spiny crayfish. Prior to these SEAPs, only 40 freshwater fish and just three spiny crayfish were listed as threatened under federal legislation, but the SEAPs have helped to get more than 50 additional fish and crayfish national legislative projection (under the EPBC Act), which will hopefully contribute to their conservation. One such species is the Utchee Creek rainbowfish (Melanotaenia utcheensis).

This beautifully coloured fish occurs in coastal freshwater streams (including Utchee Creek) in the North and South Johnstone River catchments on the Atherton Tableland, Queensland. Whilst the biology and ecology is not well understood, it is known as a short-lived, small-bodied species, with a restricted distribution – all of which point to heightened extinction risk. Preliminary assessment of the species is indicating that it will qualify as Endangered under the EPBC Act, inferring that it is facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. The keys to its survival will be addressing the threats posed by habitat loss, invasive species and climate change whilst implementing recovery actions (such as translocations) and gaining more knowledge to better manage the species.

Utchee Creek rainbowfish (photo: The Australia New Guinea Fishes Association, QLD)

The SEAP projects are funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water
with additional support from World Wildlife Fund – Australia.

Nick Whiterod