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The importance of salt and why we need to talk about it now

3 December 2018: An issue facing ecological systems across the globe stems from what most people would associate with a common kitchen essential – salt. While a certain amount of salt is essential for life as we know it, researchers are increasingly focusing their attention on the impact of changing salinity levels for our ecological systems and species.

University of Canberra researcher Dr Ben Kefford will have four papers published in a special journal issue dedicated to impacts of salinity: Salt in freshwaters: causes, ecological consequences and future prospects.

Dr Kefford explains that processes such as mining for coal, gas and oil could have a detrimental impact due to alteration in salinity from their effluents.

“Salination levels is a growing issue across the globe but specifically in Australia with mining, we can predict what species will be affected by effluents using existing tests with artificial sea water,” said Dr Kefford.

“We currently have 206 species that have been tested in artificial sea water and we have just found that there is a strong correlation between this water and the effluents from mines.

“Using this information, we are able to determine what species will be affected and how.”

This is just one issue that is covered by Dr Kefford’s research, which includes examining the effects of salination levels in Australia’s freshwater streams and specifically looking at mayflies.

“One of my articles provides three hypotheses as to why mayflies decline in numbers with a lower saline level. Our knowledge of the physiology of mayflies indicates that they shouldn’t be affected by a change in the level of salt, but recent experiments have shown that their numbers decline with lower salinity.

“My hypotheses will act as a springboard for further investigation into the physiology of mayflies and why they have this reaction to salt water,” said Dr Kefford.

Research in this area will be critical to the future preservation of our freshwater species and ecological environments.

Dr Ben Kefford’s articles within Salt in freshwaters: causes, ecological consequences and future prospects include:  

  • Salt in freshwaters: causes, ecological consequences and future prospects
  • Why are mayflies (Ephemeroptera) lost following small increases in salinity? Three conceptual osmophysiological hypotheses
  • Species of freshwater invertebrates that are sensitive to one saline water, are mostly sensitive to another saline water, but an exception exists
  • Biological interactions mediate context and species-specific sensitivities to salinity