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Queensland Department of Environment and Science

Latest documentation


Designed for use in

Queensland, Australia
Many locations in Queensland, see case studies.



Assessment purpose

Condition, Management effectiveness, Prioritisation, Processes and components

Assessment criteria

Physical and chemical, Ecosystem/habitat, Flora, Fauna

Method type

Field, desktop, expert panel, laboratory assessment/analysis


Medium-long term – The Q-catchments program is a broad scale assessment of Queensland catchments, with a comprehensive long-term approach. The methodology has been developed so it can be applied to differing temporal scales.


Landscape/Catchment, Region

Wetland system


Description and method logic

Method purpose

The Q-catchments program aims to assess aquatic ecosystem condition, and the threats to condition, in river systems across Queensland. Threats are identified and prioritised using a risk-based approach. The threats to aquatic ecosystems are linked through cause and effect conceptual models for each region assessed.


The Q-catchment program undertakes risk assessment and reporting that identifies the threats that pose the greatest risk to river ecosystems in Queensland. The results of the risk assessments are used to design monitoring and assessment of riverine threats and condition in selected regions and catchments. Pressure-Stressor-Response (PSR) conceptual models form the causative understanding of the ecosystem and are used to identify important model components. These underpin the risk assessments and the design of monitoring and assessment. This approach provides for the ongoing refinement of conceptual understandings and guides efficient management activity. Repeated assessments provide information on the success or otherwise of management and change in threats (in particular increases and establishment), which underlies the concept of adaptive monitoring and management.

Method logic

The Q-catchments program (previously named the Stream and Estuary Assessment Program (SEAP)) is an approach to aquatic ecosystem assessment, which is underpinned by the Pressure-Stressor-Ecosystem Response (PSER) conceptual framework. This is a causal chain conceptual framework, which simplifies and standardises the threatening processes occurring in aquatic ecosystems. The aim of this conceptual framework is to ensure repeatability and make the presentation of concepts easier. The components of the PSER framework also provide the basis for undertaking all assessments and in particular the risk assessments.

The Q-catchments program identifies and ranks the threats to riverine ecosystems using an ecological risk assessment. The risk assessment uses current information on the likelihood of the occurrence of a threat (1-5 rating) and consequence of that threat to the ecosystem (i.e. ecosystem response) (1-5 rating). These threats are only those resulting from human related activity and are the result of changes to physical, chemical and biological stressors. Risk is determined as the product of likelihood and consequence scores and the final risk score provides a ranking of all potential threats. The risk ranking is used for the prioritisation of the threats and can be used to guide management and monitoring.

A sampling strategy for monitoring selected threats includes typical issues such as defining the sampling population; site selections; selecting indicators and appropriate methods; setting effect sizes and site numbers; and techniques in comparing measures against expected values (e.g. reference ranges for the indicator). These issues are adjusted based on the needs and resources of the program and threats being assessed. Sample site selection for condition assessment follows the General Randomised Tessellated Selection (GRTS) protocol to ensure that the sites sampled are spatially balanced (e.g. to allow for nested spatial scales within an assessment) and representative of the total population of potential sample sites.

The program applies a multiple lines of evidence approach, which allows for a better review of the conceptual understanding and provides more information for repeated risk assessment in the future. In addition to this monitoring information, targeted research activity provides better cause-effect information for future repeat risk assessments. This targeted research is guided by the initial risk assessments identifying threats lacking in appropriate understanding or information.

Criteria groupings of the method

  • Acid soil run-off.
  • Climate change.
  • Direct biota removal or disturbance (e.g. fishing).
  • Flow management.
  • Aquatic habitat disturbance (including connectivity).
  • Aquatic pest species (flora and fauna).
  • Nutrients.
  • Organic matter.
  • Pathogens.
  • Riparian habitat disturbance (including connectivity).
  • Introduced riparian species (flora and fauna, including pests).
  • Salinity.
  • Sediments (suspended and deposited).
  • Thermal alteration.
  • Toxicants (including pesticides).

Data required

  • Threat data.
  • Conceptual models.
  • Expert and stakeholder information.
  • Field data.
  • Modelling.
  • Geographic and spatial data.

Resources required

Expertise required

Expert knowledge of riverine flora, fauna and ecology including potential threats and their management, spatial and non-spatial data. Field sampling and assessment skills, and data analysis.

Materials required

A database platform for data storage, manipulation and values assessment, a Geographic Information System (GIS) platform for result presentation and interpretation.

Method outputs


Q-catchments produces a likelihood, consequence and ecological risk score for threats within a study area. These are detailed in a risk assessment report and risk scores are categorised into high, medium or low levels for presentation purposes.

Q-catchments produces an assessment of the current level of threat and ecosystem condition associated with selected higher ranked threats (i.e. priority threats). A report is produced for presenting the monitoring and assessment of the current threat and ecosystem condition in combination with the current conceptual understanding of the causative processes.

Q-catchments produces research on ecosystem understanding including the consequences or ecosystem responses of specific threats in aquatic ecosystems and the potential management controls of specific threats.


  • Catchment condition assessment based on riverine ecosystem threats.
  • Threat and risk identification.
  • Decision support.
  • Inform priorities of management interventions required to reduce risks to ecosystems from different threats and improve ecosystem condition.

Criteria by category

    Physical and chemical

    • Acid soil runoff
    • Climate change
    • Flow management
    • Nutrients
    • Organic matter
    • Pathogens
    • Salinity
    • Sediments (suspended and deposited)
    • Thermal alteration
    • Toxicants (including pesticides)


    • Introduced aquatic flora
    • Introduced riparian flora


    • Introduced aquatic fauna
    • Introduced riparian fauna


    • Aquatic habitat disturbance (including connectivity)
    • Biota removal or disturbance (e.g. fishing)
    • Riparian habitat fragmentation (including connectivity)


Recommended user

Designed for federal, state or local government agencies and natural resource management groups.


  • Ranks threats to ecosystem condition.
  • Informs priorities for management actions to improve condition.
  • Applied at a broad scale but can be applied at other spatial scales.
  • Risk assessment is based on existing data.
  • Provides improved information for repeated assessments.
  • Repeated assessment can provide information on increases in threat likelihood including emergence of new threats.
  • Adaptive monitoring and management.


  • Outputs require balancing with resources available (e.g. financial).
  • Understanding of the ecological responses from the interactions of multiple threats.
  • Assumes current conceptual understanding is correct.
  • Threat and ecosystem response assessment categories have a degree of subjectivity.
  • Region and catchment scale reporting in the current program limits ability to inform management interventions at a site scale other than those where sampling has taken place.
  • Variability is not considered in the assessments at scales not accounted for in the monitoring program design (e.g. within a catchment).

Case studies

Ecological risk assessment and threat prioritisation in Queensland's eastern Murray Darling Rivers: Condamine, Balonne and Maranoa: Lower Balonne: Moonie

Ecological risk assessment for riverine ecosystems in the Burdekin region: Q-catchments 2018

Lake Eyre and Bulloo Province stressor prioritisation workshop report

Queensland’s eastern Murray-Darling riverine ecosystems: threats and condition

Report on a workshop held in Cairns to prioritise the pressures and stressors impacting on the streams and rivers of the Wet Tropics province

Risk assessment and threat prioritisation : Bulloo, Paroo, Warrego and Nebine catchments

Riverine assessment in Queensland's Wet Tropics

Riverine assessment in Queensland's central province

Riverine condition assessment of the Warrego, Paroo, Bulloo and Nebine catchments of Queensland: technical report 2012

Riverine condition in Queensland's Lake Eyre and Bulloo catchments

Stream and Estuary Assessment Program : an assessment framework for riverine ecosystems

The Archer catchment 2014: threats and condition of riverine ecosystems

The Bulloo catchment 2012: condition of riverine ecosystems

The Coleman catchment 2014: threats and condition of riverine ecosystems

The Ducie catchment 2014: threats and condition of riverine ecosystems

The Endeavour catchment 2014: threats and condition of riverine ecosystems

The Holroyd catchment 2014: threats and condition of riverine ecosystems

The Jacky Jacky catchment 2014: threats and condition of riverine ecosystems

The Jardine catchment 2014: threats and condition of riverine ecosystems

The Jeannie catchment 2014: threats and condition of riverine ecosystems

The Lockhart catchment 2014: threats and condition of riverine ecosystems

The Nebine catchment 2012: condition of riverine ecosystems

The Normanby catchment 2014: threats and condition of riverine ecosystems

The Olive-Pascoe catchment 2014: threats and condition of riverine ecosystems

The Paroo catchment 2012: condition of riverine ecosystems

The Stewart catchment 2014: threats and condition of riverine ecosystems

The Warrego catchment 2012: condition of riverine ecosystems

The Wenlock catchment 2014: threats and condition of riverine ecosystems

Threats to Cape York rivers: Q-catchments risk assessment and threat prioritisation



  1. Negus, P, Moller, G, Blessing, J, Davis, L, Marshall, J & and Dobbie, M (2009), Stream and Estuary Assessment Program (SEAP): An assessment framework for riverine ecosystems. Department of Natural Resources and Water, Queensland Government. [online], Department of Natural Resources and Water, Queensland Government, Queensland. Available at:
  2. Marshall, JC & Negus, PM (2019), 'Application of a Multistressor Risk Framework to the Monitoring, Assessment, and Diagnosis of River Health', in Multiple Stressors in River Ecosystems. [online], pp. 255-280. Available at:
  3. Negus, P, Blessing, J, Clifford, S & Marshall, J (2020), 'Adaptive monitoring using causative conceptual models: assessment of ecological integrity of aquatic ecosystems', Australasian Journal of Environmental Management. [online], vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 224-240. Available at:
  4. Steward, AL, Negus, P, Marshall, J, Clifford, SE & Dent, C, 'Assessing the ecological health of rivers when they are dry', Ecological Indicators. [online], vol. 85, no. September 2017, pp. 537-547. Available at:
  5. Dobbie, MJ & Negus, P (2013), 'Addressing statistical and operational challenges in designing large-scale stream condition surveys', Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. [online], vol. 185, no. 9, pp. 7231-7243. Available at:
  6. Dobbie, MJ, Wang, YG, Zammit, R, Offer, A, Negus, P & Blessing, J (2012), 'Optimising the sampling effort in riparian surveys', Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. [online], vol. 185, no. 5, pp. 3721-3733. Available at:
  7. Marshall, JC, Blessing, JJ, Clifford, SE, Hodges, KM, Negus, PM & Steward, AL (2019), 'Ecological impacts of invasive carp in Australian dryland rivers', Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. [online], vol. 29, no. 11, pp. 1870-1889. Available at:
  8. Negus, P, Marshall, JC, Clifford, SE, Blessing, JJ & Steward, AL (2019), 'No sitting on the fence: protecting wetlands from feral pig damage by exclusion fences requires effective fence maintenance', Wetlands Ecology and Management. [online], vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 581-585. Available at:
  9. Marshall, JC, Blessing, JJ, Clifford, SE, Negus, PM & Steward, AL (2020), 'Epigeic invertebrates of pig‐damaged, exposed wetland sediments are rooted: An ecological response to feral pigs ( <span style="font-variant:small-caps;"> <i>Sus scrofa</i> </span> )', Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. [online], vol. 30, no. 12, pp. 2207-2220. Available at: [Accessed 12 August 2021].
  10. Negus, PM, Marshall, JC, Steward, AL, Mcgregor, GB & O'Connor, RA (2020), 'Aquatic biota in hot water: thermal gradients in rheocrene hot spring discharges as analogues for the effects of climate warming', Knowledge & Management of Aquatic Ecosystems. [online], no. 421, p. 49. Available at: [Accessed 12 August 2021].

Last updated: 16 September 2020

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment, Science and Innovation, Queensland (2020) Q-catchments, WetlandInfo website, accessed 18 March 2024. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment, Science and Innovation