, Volume 32, Issue 1-4, pp 313-339

The ecology and conservation of the coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae

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Studies on the ecology of the living coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae, are reviewed and assessed. Early predictions on the life history of the coelacanth have proved to be accurate but recent findings have improved our understanding of its habitat and feeding preferences, diel activity patterns and social behaviour. A history of coelacanth conservation reveals that there has been a sustained concern for the survival of this species which has eventually culminated in several effective conservation actions in recent years. The coelacanth is threatened by a number of socio-economic and biological factors, but international action directed at managing the fishery in the Comoros should ensure that the species survives. Recent observations on living coelacanths in their natural environment have greatly improved our knowledge of the behaviour and relative abundance of adults. Important priorities for future research include studies on the distribution and abundance of juveniles and breeding adults, both off the Comoros and elsewhere. The coelacanth is a highly specialised, precocial fish which occupies a unique place in biology. Co-ordinated international efforts should continue to be made to understand and conserve this remarkable fish.