New research employing an integrative approach of evidence-gathering using morphological and genetic analysis and based on a fresh collection of Dawkinsia, a genus of cyprinid fish specimens from the Western Ghats, has resulted in the discovery of three new fish species.
Scientists from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS) and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, have unravelled the diversity in the filament barbs of the Western Ghats.
Filament barbs are a group of small freshwater fishes found in the rivers of peninsular India and Sri Lanka, where nine species are known under the genus Dawkinsia. They are popular among aquarium hobbyists and are wild-collected and captive-bred for trade.
The scientific paper presenting the result was published on Saturday in the international journal Vertebrate Zoology , which is published from Senckenberg Museum in Germany.
“This research has also cleared long-standing taxonomic confusions associated with the small cyprinids of the genus Dawkinsia, paving the way for improved conservation prioritisation and attention for these species,” the BNHS said in a statement.
“It took almost eight years of extensive field work, examination of historic specimens in museums, both in and outside India, and genetic analysis to understand the true diversity of these charismatic freshwater fishes, which are much sought-after globally as aquarium pets,” said Unmesh Katwate, Fish Scientist, Freshwater Research Unit, BNHS, and Ph.D student at KUFOS, who led the study.
The research has also helped to stabilise the identity of Dawkinsia assimilis and Dawkinsia lepida, the species of filament barbs described by British ichthyologists in the 1800s.
“This study on filament barb, a lesser-known group of freshwater fish, led by a BNHS scientist, is a remarkable contribution to Indian ichthyology. This new study will help us in delineating important freshwater key biodiversity areas, and help prioritise conservation initiatives for the Western Ghats freshwater biodiversity,” BNHS Director Deepak Apte said.
“This study also highlights the urgent need to conserve the Western Ghats freshwater resources as several unknown and plausibly narrow endemic species are still getting described,” he said in a statement.
“Despite this updated publication, the taxonomy of fishes of the genus Dawkinsia remains poorly known and further intensive explorations and research will, no doubt, yield more new species from this group,” said Rajeev Raghavan, Assistant Professor at KUFOS, and the South Asia Coordinator of the IUCN Freshwater Fish Specialist Group, who co-supervised the project.
“This study has also highlighted the importance of using an integrative approach to understanding the taxonomy of complex groups of fishes, especially those that are cryptic and difficult to distinguish by external morphology,” said Neelesh Dahanukar, Visiting Faculty Member, IISER, and a co-supervisor of the project. “Only by combining advanced molecular studies with the traditional morphology can we understand the true diversity of our freshwater ecosystems,” he said.