Tags: discovery | new | fish | species

Discovery Enlarges Amazon Fish Family

Monday, 14 Oct 2013 06:42 PM

By Amy Woods

Scientists have come across a new species of fish in the Amazon River, and the discovery marks the first of its kind in more than 100 years.

The beautiful swimmer is in the arapaima family, and is an unusually large freshwater fish. For the past century, researchers have known of the existence of a single species in the family.

The new find has conservationists voicing concerns about overfishing and fish farms.

"Everybody for 160 years had been saying there's only one kind of arapaima," Donald Stewart, of the State University of New York at Syracuse, told NBC News. "But we know now there are various species, including some not previously recognized. Each of these unstudied giant fishes needs conservation assessment."

Important to commercial anglers in the region, arapaima gigas was believed to be the only species in existence today.

In the 1800s, however, four species of arapaima were documented and studied, Stewart said.

He sifted through research and looked at preserved specimens at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, and told NBCNews that each of the four types was distinct. The fifth member of the family has the scientific name A. leptosome, and the news was published in the October issue of Copeia.

Identifying and understanding all of the arapaima's different features will aid in the health of the fish, the conservation of river ecology, and the balance of nature.

"There is a growing aquaculture industry for arapaima, so they are being moved about and stocked in ponds for rearing," Stewart said. "Eventually, pond-reared fishes escape and, once freed, the ecological effects are irreversible. A species that is endangered in its native habitat may become an invasive species in another habitat.

"The bottom line is that we shouldn't be moving these large, predatory fishes around until the species and their natural distributions are better known. Given the uncertainties, precaution is needed."


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