, Volume 52, Issue 1-3, pp 97-124

Distribution of the freshwater fishes of Japan: an historical overview

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Japanese freshwater fishes, including lampreys, comprise 15 orders, 35 families, and 96 genera, with 211 species and subspecies. Most belong to the families Cyprinidae (29% of species and subspecies), Gobiidae (21%), Salmonidae (10%), and Cobitidae (8%). Cyprinids and cobitids presumably originated from east Asia, gobiids from southeast Asia, and cottids and salmonids from the north Pacific. Japanese freshwater fishes include 88 endemic species and subspecies, of which three have been extirpated. Fishes introduced into natural rivers and lakes for inland commercial fisheries and sport fishing, and by accident, include many exotic species, of which 23 now inhabit natural freshwaters. These often have destroyed the local fish fauna by predation, and caused genetic pollution by hybridization with local strains. Destruction of freshwater environments by land development also poses a threat to Japanese freshwater fish communities. In addition Japanese freshwater systems have been markedly altered by development of rice paddy fields which have caused some species to decline but others to flourish, and changed the distribution patterns of fishes between upstream and downstream areas. To conserve endangered species and declining communities of Japanese freshwater fishes, we need to clarify the characteristics of their original habitats and the effects of developing paddy fields, from both the ecological and historical points of view.