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Planning for change: the origin, distribution and conservation of endemic fish species

February 23, 2012

Achondrostoma: a tiny fish species endemic to Iberia. Image: Ana Maria Geraldes

A new journal article published by BioFresh partners has revealed intriguing new findings about the global origins and distribution of river fish species, with important consequences for their conservation.  The article “Patterns and processes of global riverine fish endemism” was published in Global Ecology and Biogeography, seeking to provide a means to identify areas of high conservation interest based on the present and future evolutionary diversification potential of fish species.

Lead author Pablo Tedesco from the Natural History Museum in Paris explains: “We distinguished between two kinds of endemic freshwater fish species: those that originated within a drainage basin by radiation and did not disperse after; and those that were once widespread and reduced their range either by extinctions or by differentiation in one drainage basin.

Then we related these two kind of endemic species to historical, habitat, climatic and biological factors and found that the first category (originated from a small range) is occurring mostly in large drainage basins with a rather stable climatic history and having poor dispersal abilities. Contrarily, the second category of endemics (those that were once widespread) occur in highly isolated places (like islands or peninsulas) and mostly belong to families that originated in the sea. These findings point out that instead of focusing on endemic species to protect them, we should protect the places where species are created in order to preserve future diversity”.

These are fascinating findings which add to the growing discussion on how evolutionary processes can be incorporated into conservation planning.  Understanding species histories and potential evolutionary futures is important for conservation managers looking to conserve species in the face of threats such as climate change and habitat loss.  As such, this paper furthers our understanding of how we may prioritise effective conservation planning for freshwater fish species.

You can read the paper here.

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