, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 1-22

The barbs (Barbus spp.) of Lake Tana: a forgotten species flock?

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In October–December 1990, the large barbs (Barbus) that contribute more than 35% of the catch in lake Tana (northern Ethiopia) were studied. Previous authors (Rüppell 1837, Boulenger 1902,1911, Bini 1940) described from 6 to 23 (sub)species for the lake. Banister (1973) lumped all of these into one subspecies: Barbus intermedius intermedius Rüppell,1837. We found that the Lake Tana Barbus could be readily categorized in at least 13 discrete morphotypes, some of which were already distinguished by local fishermen. None of the known descriptions are adequate to distinguish the barbs unambiguously, which is important for monitoring and management of developing fisheries. Intermediates between morphotypes were rare (< 10%). By applying canonical discriminant analysis on a set of 17 morphometric characters (including some directly associated with feeding) our initial morphotype-distinction was confirmed. Also, differences between the morphotypes in distribution, related to depth and substratum were found, as well as differences in intestinal contents, a key to the food-niche. The high number of piscivorous morphotypes (8 out of 13) was striking as piscivory is relatively rare among cyprinids. Piscivory was found to be highly correlated with morphological (feeding related) characters. The presence of discrete morphotypes, that also differ in food-niche and distribution, strongly suggests that several distinct populations exist, that may be (partly or completely) reproductively segregated. Knowledge about these populations, that may represent separate units of fish stock, is of crucial importance for the management of sustainable fisheries and protection of the biodiversity in Lake Tana. It is possible that several species or even a unique cyprinid species flock are present, that urgently need protection.

Invited editorial