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The Ecological Society of Australia has announced the winner of the prestigious 2020 Ecological Impact Award.

An innovative ecological modelling method for protecting aquatic wildlife – a collaboration between Melbourne Water, The University of Melbourne and La Trobe University – has received the national prize. 

The modelling methodology will improve the understanding of threats and priority actions to best protect Greater Melbourne’s waterways into the future.

The unique methodology is drawn from more than 20 years of past biological monitoring data. It can predict the future conditions of thousands of kilometres of waterways and associated habitats across Greater Melbourne.

Melbourne Water’s Dr Rhys Coleman and Waterway Planner, Sharyn Ross Rakesh, helped lead the project. 

Dr Coleman said the modelling provides important predictions of how waterways are likely to be impacted by continued urban growth and climate change.

“The modelling draws on Melbourne Water’s extensive long-term data sets on the distribution of fish, platypus and aquatic invertebrates and information on the characteristics of sites, such as streamside vegetation and stream flows, and where these animals are present or absent,” Dr Coleman said.

“We can then make predictions of where particular animals are likely to exist in areas yet to be surveyed – or how they might benefit from certain management actions.

“This modelling is helping scientists, waterway managers and the community identify priority actions that give us the best chance of protecting our waterways for future generations.”

As part of developing the Healthy Waterways Strategy 2018, Melbourne Water and university teams held multiple co-design workshops with key stakeholders, where modelling outputs were combined with local knowledge and expertise to agree on priority actions and 50-year environmental outcome targets.

“The integration of expertise between Melbourne Water, The University of Melbourne’s Waterway Ecosystem Research Group and the Centre for Freshwater Ecosystems at La Trobe University was critical to the success of this innovative and cost-effective approach to identifying waterway management priorities,” Dr Coleman said.

“This award is an acknowledgement of that and we are honoured to be part of the team to receive it.”

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