, Volume 17, Issue 13, pp 3119-3131
Date: 13 Nov 2007

Fish fauna of Chalakudy River, part of Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot, Kerala, India: patterns of distribution, threats and conservation needs

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Seventy one fish species belonging to 27 families and 50 genera were collected from various sampling sites spread along the upstream and downstream parts of the Chalakudy river, in the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot in Kerala, South India. Cyprinids were the most dominant group represented by 24 species belonging to 13 genera, followed by the catfishes of the family Bagridae (7 species from 2 genera) and loaches belonging to the family Balitoridae (5 species from 5 genera). Of the 71 species, 4 belong to the ‘critically endangered’ (CR) and 16 to the ‘endangered’ (EN) category. 3 of the critically endangered species are strictly endemic to the Chalakudy river system. We also collected 5 exotic species several of them categorized as potential pest. Fish species richness (FSR) showed a direct relationship with increasing stream order with maximum values observed in the downstream/low elevation regions. Considerable differences were observed in the FSR between different microhabitats with maximum values observed in bed rock and pool riffle and the lowest in regimes followed by step pools. Diversity and species richness decreased with increasing altitude and higher diversity and species richness were observed in sampling sites located between 0–200 m above sea level. A definite temporal partitioning was also observed with regard to FSR with higher richness during the day time and the lowest observed at dawn. Indiscriminate collection of endemic and threatened ornamental fish species for export, exploitation of endangered food fishes by forest-dwelling communities and local fisher folk, pollution, loss of riparian cover, damming and exotic species threaten the rich ichthyofaunal diversity of Chalakudy River. An urgent need exists for studying the life history traits and demography of the most important endemic and threatened fishes, as lack of information on these aspects have significantly affected conservation efforts. The implementation of strong management strategies like fixing total allowable catch (TAC), and the use of quotas are needed to reduce the overall collection pressure with regard to the trade in native ornamental species from the river.