Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 345–368 | Cite as

Fish ecology and management of the Sepik-Ramu, New Guinea, a large contemporary tropical river basin

  • David Coates


The ichthyofauna of the Sepik-Ramu basin is composed of diadromous species and the freshwater derivatives of marine families. Fish species diversity, ichthyomass and fish catches are low even by Australasian standards. Three major factors have produced the depauperate ichthyofauna and restricted fishery within the basin: First, the zoogeographic origins of the ichthyofauna. Australasian freshwater fishes, being mainly derived from marine families, generally exhibit ecological characteristics that have evolved for life in estuaries, not rivers. This has led to peculiarities in river fish ecology and explains the probable low fish production from rivers in this region in general. Several important riverine trophic resources are not exploited by the Australasian freshwater ichthyofauna. The modes of reproduction amongst the Australasian freshwater ichthyofauna have limited the colonisation and exploitation of floodplain habitats. Second, Sepik-Ramu lowland habitats, especially floodplains, are very young. This has resulted in low fish species diversity in lowlands, whilst diversity at higher altitudes is equable, in comparison to river systems in southern New Guinea/ northern Australia. Third, the Sepik-Ramu lacks an estuary in sharp contrast to river systems in southern New Guinea or northern Australia. Most of the 18 families of Australasian fishes missing from the Sepik-Ramu are probably absent because of this factor alone. In particular, the Sepik-Ramu has not been colonised by any family of fishes having pelagic eggs, resulting in the loss from the fauna of the few Australasian fish taxa with high reproductive rates. Consequently, the general problems with river fish ecology in Australasia are exacerbated within the Sepik-Ramu by the particular development and morphology of the basin. Fish species diversity in the Sepik-Ramu is low, even in comparison with those taxa representative of marine families resident in rivers in nearby zoogeographic regions (S.E. Asia) whose ichthyofaunas are otherwise dominated by freshwater dispersant groups. The Sepik-Ramu ichthyofauna is considered noteworthy for what is absent, not what is present. Ichthyomass and fish production can be increased by fish species introductions whilst, in theory, biodiversity of the native fish fauna can be maintained. The directions in which ecological evaluations of proposed introductions might proceed in practice for the Sepik-Ramu are discussed but are constrained by the lack of knowledge on species interactions from other areas.

Key words:

Ichthyofauna Colonisation Adaptation Speciation Diversity Zoogeography Habitats Fish catches Fish introductions 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References cited

  1. Allen, G.R. 1991. Freshwater fishes of New Guinea. Christensen Research Institute, Publication 9, Madang. 268 pp.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, G.R. & D. Coates. 1990. An ichthyological survey of the Sepik River system, Papua New Guinea. Records of the Western Australian Museum Suppl. 34: 31–116.Google Scholar
  3. Allen, G.R. & N.J. Cross. 1982. Rainbowfishes of Australia and New Guinea. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune City. 141 pp.Google Scholar
  4. Balon, E.K. 1990. Epigenesis of an epigeneticist: the development of some alternative concepts of the early ontogeny and evolution of fishes. Guelph Ichthyol. Rev. 1: 1–48.Google Scholar
  5. Bowen, S.H. 1983. Detritivory in neotropical fish communities. Env. Biol. Fish. 9: 137–144.Google Scholar
  6. Breder, C.M. Jr. & D.E. Rosen. 1966. Modes of reproduction in fishes. Natural History Press, Garden City. 941 pp.Google Scholar
  7. Coates, D. 1985. Fish yield estimates for the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea, a large floodplain system east of ‘Wallace's Liner’. J. Fish Biol. 27: 431–443.Google Scholar
  8. Coates, D. 1987a. Consideration of fish introductions into the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea. Aqua. Fish. Manag. 18: 231–241.Google Scholar
  9. Coates, D. 1987b. Observations on the biology of tarpon,Megalops cyprinoides (Broussonet) (Pisces: Megalopidae), in the Sepik River, northern Papua New Guinea. Aust. J. Mar. Freshw. Res. 38: 529–535.Google Scholar
  10. Coates, D. 1988. Lenght-dependent changes in egg size and fecundity in females, and brooded embryo size in males, of fork-tailed catfishes (Pisces : Ariidae) from the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea, with some implications for stock assessment. J. Fish Biol. 33: 455–464.Google Scholar
  11. Coates, D. 1990a. Biology of the rainbowfish,Glossolepis multisquamatus (Melanotaeniidae) from the Sepik River floodplains, Papua New Guinea. Env. Biol. Fish. 29: 119–126.Google Scholar
  12. Coates. D. 1990b. Biology of the perchletAmbassis interrupta Bleeker (Pisces: Ambassidae) in the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea. Aust. J. Mar. Freshw. Res. 41: 267–274.Google Scholar
  13. Coates, D. 1991. Biology of fork-tailed catfishes from the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea. Env. Biol. Fish. 31: 55–74.Google Scholar
  14. Coates, D. 1992. Biology ofOxyeleotris heterodon and its major prey,Ophieleotris aporos, two floodplains sleepers (Pisces Eleotrididae) of the Sepik River fishery, northern Papua New Guinea. Env. Biol. Fish. 34: 51–64.Google Scholar
  15. Coates, D. 1993a. Implementation of the EIFAC/ICES code of practice: experiences with the evaluation of international fish transfers into the Sepik River basin, Papua New Guinea. Proceedings of the World Fisheries Congress, Athens, May 1992 (in press).Google Scholar
  16. Coates, D. 1993b. Environmental management implications of aquatic species introductions: a case study of fish introductions into the Sepik-Ramu Basin, Papua, New Guinea. Asian Journal of Environmental Management 1: 39–49.Google Scholar
  17. Coates, D., M.J. Nunn & K.R. Uwate. 1989. Epizootic ulcerative disease of freshwater fish in Papua New Guinea. Science in New Guinea 15: 1–11.Google Scholar
  18. Coates, D. & P.A.M. Van Zwieten. 1992. Biology of the freshwater halfbeakZenarchopterus kampeni (Teleostei : Hemiramphidae) from the Sepik and Ramu River basin, northern Papua New Guinea. Ichthyol. Explor. Freshwaters 3: 25–36.Google Scholar
  19. Collette, B.B. 1983. Mangrove fishes of New Guinea. pp. 91–102.In: H.J. Teas (ed.) Tasks for Vegetation Science, 8, Dr W. Junk Publishers, The Hague.Google Scholar
  20. Collette, B.B., G.E. McGowen, N.V. Parin & S. Mito. 1984. Beloniformes: development and relationships. pp. 335–354.In: H.G. Moser et al. (ed.) Ontogeny and Systematics of Fishes, Amer. Soc. Ich. Herp. Spec. Pub. No. 1, Lawrence.Google Scholar
  21. Compagno, L.J.V. & T.R. Roberts. 1982. Freshwater dasyatid stingrays of Southeast Asia and New Guinea, with description of a new species. Env. Biol. Fish. 7: 321–339.Google Scholar
  22. Courtenay. W.R. Jr. & C.R. Robins. 1989. Fish introductions: good management, mismanagement or no management? Rev. Aquat. Sci. 1: 159–172.Google Scholar
  23. Dando, P.R. 1984. Reproduction in estuarine fish. pp. 155–170.In: G. Potts & R.J. Wootton(ed.) Fish Reproduction: Strategy and Tactics, Academic Press, London.Google Scholar
  24. Dawson, C.E. 1984. Revision of the genusMicrophis Kaup (Pisces: Syngnathidae). Bull. Mar. Sci. 35: 117–181.Google Scholar
  25. Dudgeon, D. 1990. Benthic community structure and the effect of rotenone piscicide on invertebrate drift and standing stocks in two Papua New Guinea streams. Arch. Hydrobiol. 119: 35–53.Google Scholar
  26. Fletcher, A.R., A.K. Morison & D.J. Hume. 1985. Effects of carp,Cyprinus carpio L., on communities of aquatic vegetation and turbidity of waterbodies in the lower Goulburn River basin. Aust. J. Mar. Freshw. Res. 36: 311–327.Google Scholar
  27. Goulding, M. 1980. The fishes and the forest: explorations in Amazonian natural history. University of California Press, Berkeley. 208 pp.Google Scholar
  28. Goulding, M., M.L. Carvalho & E.G. Ferreira. 1988. Rio Negro: rich life in poor water. SPB Academic Publishing, The Hague 200 pp.Google Scholar
  29. Grey, D.L. 1987. An overview ofLates calcarifer in Australia and Asia. pp. 15–21.In: J.W. Copland & D.L. Grey (ed.) Management of Wild and Cultured Sea Bass/Barramundi (Laces calcarifer), Australian Center for International Agricultural Research Proceedings 20, Canberra.Google Scholar
  30. Hortle, K.G. 1987. First records of freshwater eels from the Fly River system, Papua New Guinea. Fishes of Sahul. S.R. Frankland Publishers, Moorabin 5: 202–204.Google Scholar
  31. Hortle, K.G. 1989. The potential for introduction of Fly River fishes to the Sepik. pp. 162–166.In: D.A. Pollard (ed.) Introduced and Translocated Fishes and Their Ecological Effects, Department of Primary Industries and Energy, Bureau of Rural Resources, Proc. 8, Canberra.Google Scholar
  32. Li, H.W. & P.B. Moyle. 1981. Ecological analysis of species introductions into aquatic systems. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 110: 772–782.Google Scholar
  33. Löffler, E. 1977. Geomorphology of Papua New Guinea. CSIRO and Australian National University Press, Canberra. 195 pp.Google Scholar
  34. Lowe-McConnell, R.H. 1975. Fish communities in tropical freshwaters. Longman, London. 337 pp.Google Scholar
  35. McDowall, R.M. 1981. The relationships of Australian freshwater fishes. pp. 1253–1273.In: A. Keast(ed.) Ecological Biogeography of Australia, Dr. W. Junk Publishers, The Hague.Google Scholar
  36. Mekong Committee. 1976. Fisheries and integrated Mekong River basin development, terminal report of the Mekong basinwise fishery studies. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 367 pp.Google Scholar
  37. Merrick, J.R. & G.E. Schmida. 1984. Australian freshwater fishes: biology of management. Griffin Press, Netley. 409 pp.Google Scholar
  38. Moore, R. 1980. Migration and reproduction in the percoid fishLates calcarifer (Bloch). Ph.D. Thesis, University of London, London. 215 pp.Google Scholar
  39. Moore, R. 1982. Spawning and early life history of barramundi,Lates calcarifer (Bloch), in Papua New Guinea. Aust. J. Mar. Freshw. Res. 33: 647–661.Google Scholar
  40. Munro, I.S.R. 1967. The fishes of New Guinea. Department of Agriculture, Stock and Fisheries, Port Moresby. 651 pp.Google Scholar
  41. Myers, G.S. 1949. Salt tolerance of freshwater fish groups in relation to zoogeographical problems. Bijdragen tot de dierkunde 28: 315–322.Google Scholar
  42. Petr, T. (ed.) 1983. The Purari — tropical environment of a high rainfall river basin. Monographiae Bilogicae 51, Dr W. Junk Publishers, The Hague. 624 pp.Google Scholar
  43. Roberts, T.R. 1978. An ichthyological survey of the Fly River in Papua New Guinea with descriptions of new species. Smithson. Cont. Zool. 281. 72 pp.Google Scholar
  44. Roberts, T.R. 1989. The freshwater fishes of Western Borneo (Kalimantan Barat, Indonesia). Mem. Calif. Acad. Sci. 14. 210 pp.Google Scholar
  45. Swadling, P. B. Hauser-Schaublin, P. Gorecki & F. Tiesler. 1988. The Sepik-Ramu. National Museum, Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby. 76 pp.Google Scholar
  46. Turner, G.E. 1988. Codes of practice and manual of procedures for consideration of introductions and transfers of marine and freshwater organisms. EIFAC/CECPI Occ. Pap. 23. 44 pp.Google Scholar
  47. Ulaiwi, W.K. 1990. The occurrence and spread of common carp,Cyprinus carpio L., in the Sepik River system, Papua New Guinea. pp. 765–768.In: R. Hirano & I. Hanyu (ed.) Proceedings of the Second Asian Fisheries Forum, Tokyo.Google Scholar
  48. Van Zwieten, P.A.M. 1990. Preliminary analysis of biomass, density and distribution of fish in tributaries and hillstreams of the Sepik-Ramu River system (Papua New Guinea). pp. 829–834.In: R. Hirano & I. Hanyu (ed.) Proceedings of the Second Asian Fisheries Forum, Tokyo.Google Scholar
  49. Welcomme, R.L. 1985. River fisheries. FAO Fish. Tech. Pap. 262. 330 pp.Google Scholar
  50. West, G.J. & J. Glucksman. 1976. Introduction and distribution of exotic fishes in Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea Agriculture Journal 27: 19–48.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Coates
    • 1
  1. 1.Fisheries DepartmentFood and Agriculture Organisation, c/o United Nations Development ProgrammePort MoresbyPapua New Guinea

Personalised recommendations