Lungfish – growing habitat for a prehistoric fish with lungs | Discovery | Gardening Australia

Jerry meets an enormous, endangered prehistoric fish lurking in the Brisbane River – and the team leading an innovative underwater revegetation program aim to save it.

The Australian lungfish is a prehistoric species that first appeared in Australia 380 million years ago, well before dinosaurs. It’s the world’s oldest known living vertebrate, remaining unchanged from its current form for over 100 million years.

They get their name from their ability to breath air from the surface of the water via a primitive lung. Adult lungfish can grow to more than 1.5 metres, weigh up to 40kg and live for well over 100 years.

There are other species of lungfish in Africa and South America.

Dr David Roberts is a senior research scientist with Seqwater, and he knows more than most about lungfish. “They’re the most important species left on earth. It’s significant from an evolutionary standpoint, it was here before the age of land animals. It has lungs, limbed fins that are fleshy lobes with bones and muscle. It has a rudimentary kidney system, so it can be out of the water. It has enamel in the teeth like us, it was the first thing to evolve. They have scales the size of a coffee cup. Everything about them is completely unique”.

The lungfish is the sole surviving species from 10 types once found in Australia, and its range is now restricted to just three rivers in south-east Queensland.

David has also found that the population is ageing, with few young surviving.

Lungfish lay their eggs in eelgrass and, when this is missing, so are the baby fish. Damming upstream limits regrowth after floods, so David is working with a team from Helathy Land and Water to revegetate the eelgrass.

Assistant team leader Mark Waud explains that the seeds are planted into ‘tiles’ of matting, which are then easier to plant out on the river bed, using pegs and rocks to hold them in place. Both the cornstarch pegs and jute matting will break down after a while.

Filmed on Yuggera Country in Brisbane, Qld

Featured plants:

Eelgrass (Vallisneria nana)

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