Catfish study reveals multiplicity of species

January 5, 2011

Peer into any stream in a South American rainforest and you may well see a small shoal of similar-looking miniature catfish. But don't be fooled into thinking that they are all the same species.

An extensive investigation of South American Corydoras , (reported in Nature today), reveals that catfish communities- although containing almost identically coloured and patterned fish, could actually contain three or more different .

Establishing for the first time that many species are mimetic; that is, they evolve to share the same colour patterns for mutual benefit- the research also established that each individual community of similar looking fish comprised species belonging to different genetic lineages, but still adopting similar colour patterns.

This discovery suggests that in many cases the number of Corydoras catfish species may be higher than previously recognised. This has consequent implications for environmentalists charged with protecting environmental diversity and safeguarding the species.

This increases the challenge of conserving these species at a time when many South American rivers are experiencing large scale development involving damn building, and destruction or contamination of habitats.

Markos Alexandrou, PhD student at Bangor University and one of the paper's authors said: "Although appearing identical in terms of colour pattern, our in-depth assessments of , diet, and colour patterns of the fish revealed that 92% of the communities we sampled comprised species that do not compete for resources.

Dr Martin Taylor, project leader at the University's School of Biological Sciences said: "This research highlights the hidden diversity and complexity found within neotropical freshwater ecosystems. Unfortunately, these habitats are also under extreme pressure from human activities."

Claudio Oliveira of project partners, (UNESP, Botucatu, Brazil) said: "Besides the unknown biodiversity and interesting evolutionary system revealed by this study, it reinforces the urgent need to preserve and manage South American environments to avoid the loss of many species yet to be discovered and described."

Explore further: Giant catfish protected in Cambodia

More information: ‘Competition and phylogeny determine community structure in Müllerian co-mimics’ has been scheduled for publication in Nature on 06 January 2011.

Related Stories

Painting by numbers

September 29, 2006

Professor Richard ffrench-Constant of the University of Exeter in Cornwall has worked with an international team of experts to ‘decode’ the patterns on butterflies’ wings.

Genetic study finds treasure trove of new lizards

March 4, 2009

( -- University of Adelaide research has discovered that there are many more species of Australian lizards than previously thought, raising new questions about conservation and management of Australia's native ...

Fish use electric signals to find the right mate

June 11, 2009

Electric knifefish, close relatives of the electric eel, navigate and communicate by projecting electric fields around their bodies. Research at University of Toronto is clarifying how this sense has evolved, as well as providing ...

Poisonous Poisson

December 4, 2009

In contrast to the exhaustive research into venom produced by snakes and spiders, venomous fish have been neglected and remain something of a mystery. Now, a study of 158 catfish species, published in the open access journal ...

Recommended for you

'Hog-nosed rat' discovered in Indonesia

October 6, 2015

Museum of Natural Science Curator of Mammals Jake Esselstyn at Louisiana State University and his international collaborators have discovered a new genus and species on a remote, mountainous island in Indonesia. This new ...

Stress in adolescence prepares rats for future challenges

October 5, 2015

Rats exposed to frequent physical, social, and predatory stress during adolescence solved problems and foraged more efficiently under high-threat conditions in adulthood compared with rats that developed without stress, according ...

Most EU nations seek to bar GM crops

October 4, 2015

Nineteen of the 28 EU member states have applied to keep genetically modified crops out of all or part of their territory, the bloc's executive arm said Sunday, the deadline for opting out of new European legislation on GM ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jan 05, 2011
I see the term "genetic relationships" but I don't hear them come out and say that they did anything like a DNA analysis to determine the degree of generic drift in a particular community. Besides, if they can interbreed, they're not different species. I wonder if this crowd checked that ... or even cared?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.