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Global diversity of fish (Pisces) in freshwater

Authors:C. Lévêque, T. Oberdorff, D. Paugy, M. L. J. Stiassny and P. A. Tedesco

Abstract:The precise number of extant fish species remains to be determined. About 28,900 species were listed in FishBase in 2005, but some experts feel that the final total may be considerably higher. Freshwater fishes comprise until now almost 13,000 species (and 2,513 genera) (including only freshwater and strictly peripheral species), or about 15,000 if all species occurring from fresh to brackishwaters are included. Noteworthy is the fact that the estimated 13,000 strictly freshwater fish species live in lakes and rivers that cover only 1% of the earth’s surface, while the remaining 16,000 species live in salt water covering a full 70%. While freshwater species belong to some 170 families (or 207 if peripheral species are also considered), the bulk of species occur in a relatively few groups: the Characiformes, Cypriniformes, Siluriformes, and Gymnotiformes, the Perciformes (noteably the family Cichlidae), and the Cyprinodontiformes. Biogeographically the distribution of strictly freshwater species and genera are, respectively 4,035 species (705 genera) in the Neotropical region, 2,938 (390 genera) in the Afrotropical, 2,345 (440 genera) in the Oriental, 1,844 (380 genera) in the Palaearctic, 1,411 (298 genera) in the Nearctic, and 261 (94 genera) in the Australian. For each continent, the main characteristics of the ichthyofauna are briefly outlined. At this continental scale, ichthyologists have also attempted to identify ichthyological ‘‘provinces’’ that are regions with a distinctive evolutionary history and hence more or less characteristic biota at the species level. Ichthyoregions are currently identified in each continent, except for Asia. An exceptionally high faunal diversity occurs in ancient lakes, where one of the most noteworthy features is the existence of radiations of species that apparently result from intra-lacustrine speciation. Numerous fish-species flocks have been identified in various ancient lakes that are exceptional natural sites for the study of speciation. The major threats to fish biodiversity are intense and have been relatively well documented: overexploitation, flow modification, destruction of habitats, invasion by exotic species, pollution including the worldwide phenomena of eutrophication and sedimentation, all of which are interacting.

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