In northern South Australia, the Lake Eyre Basin’s highly variable rivers and the Great Artesian Basin’s isolated spring systems provide a challenging environment for the region’s aquatic communities. For fish endemic to this landscape, decisions about dispersal, movement and feeding are critical to an individual’s survival. To assess whether ecosystem variables like hydrology and community composition influence behaviour at an individual and population level, we investigated boldness, exploratory and dispersal behaviours in a fish, the desert goby (Chlamydogobius eremius). We predicted that populations from springs should be bolder as their environments generally do not include larger aquatic predators e.g. spangled perch. On the other hand, river populations are expected to be more exploratory and dispersive as their habitats are largely ephemeral and there are greater rewards associated moving through the landscape. Preliminary data supports the hypothesis that there are significant population differences in the exploratory and boldness behaviours between spring and river populations.
The importance of intraspecific variability has only recently been recognised, particularly as a stabilising force in population and community dynamics. This study helps explore how intraspecific variability develops in animals and will be used to investigate the importance of this to the stability of aquatic communities in northern South Australia.