Estuarine research unit

Centre for Fish and Fisheries Research

Research capability statement


Leading the way 

Murdoch University is a world leader in studies of the ecology of faunal communities and populations in estuaries. Our staff have worked extensively in various estuarine ecosystems across Australia, Europe, Africa and America.

Prior to the foundation of Murdoch University, there had been only one detailed study of an estuary in Western Australia. Since the late 1970s, our staff and students have conducted extensive studies of estuaries across south-western Australia, from the highly-modified Peel-Harvey and Swan-Canning estuaries to the pristine Broke Inlet.

Community ecology

Our researchers have conducted and published ground-breaking research on:

  • fish and benthic macroinvertebrate communities in diverse estuarine systems across tropical and temperate zones
  • classifying estuarine habitat types on the basis of innovative statistical analyses of quantitative data for enduring environmental characteristics
  • the extent to which estuarine fish and benthic invertebrate faunas are related to habitat type, thus facilitating the development of reliable tools for predicting species distributions
  • developing the first ecological health indicators, based on fish community composition, for assessing the condition of south-western Australian estuaries.

Population biology

Our numerous studies of the species found in south-western Australian estuaries have produced crucial data on the biology of a number of important commercial and/or recreational species For example:

  • studies on the Blue Swimmer Crab, an important commercial and recreational species in the Peel-Harvey Estuary, produced quantitative data that enabled the timings of the immigration and emigration of this marine species into and from these systems, and the factors that influence those movements, to be elucidated precisely
  • various studies have demonstrated that our estuaries contain habitats that act as important nursery areas for species such as the Sea and Yellow-eye mullets and King-George Whiting. 

These studies have been complimented by genetic studies, which have shown, for example, that the genetic compositions of the populations of Black Bream in the various estuaries are distinct. This finding was crucial in the context of proposals to restock the populations of this species when they became depleted, such as has occurred in the Blackwood River Estuary.


Our staff have developed close associations with a number of internationally recognised scientists, which has greatly benefited the quality and innovation of the studies being undertaken on estuarine ecosystems. Professors Bob Clarke and Richard Warwick have been particularly important in this regard and, together with Professor Ian Potter, means that the CFFAER now has three ISI Highly Cited Scientists in its fold.

Professor Bob Clarke, who has contributed more than any other scientist to the multivariate statistical analysis of faunal community data, has played a crucial role in enabling CFFAER staff and students to employ the most up-to-date, and often new statistical methods, to increase our understanding of the factors that govern faunal composition in our estuaries.

Professor Richard Warwick’s expertise in the use of the characteristics of benthic invertebrate faunas to identify the extent of the degradation of estuarine benthos stimulated us to adopt similar approaches in our studies. These approaches have enabled us to interpret comparisons of the differences between the faunas in the 1980s and 2000s, and to demonstrate that the state of our estuaries has declined in the intervening period.