About 40% of all fish species occur in freshwater, although only 1% of the globe is occupied by freshwaters. The tropics harbour a high percentage of these fishes. Freshwater zooplankton on the other hand is far less diverse than its marine counterpart and the tropics do not harbour a markedly high percentage of freshwater species either. The antecedents of freshwater zooplankton appear to have come from riverine and terrestrial habitats via temporary habitats (ponds, floodplains). The present zooplankton composition has also been shaped by, among other factors, the highly efficient zooplanktivorous modern teleosts which have restricted the formerly widespread Branchiopoda mainly to Ashless freshwaters. Those Branchiopoda frequently co-existing with fishes (Cladocera) have their size composition strongly influenced by fish predation. Circumstantial evidence indicates that pelagic zooplankton (Cladocera, Copepoda, Rotifera) appear to provide a relatively scarce food supply relative to the littoral region for the early stages of fishes. Also, unpredictability of zooplankton may be involved here. These factors have led to the loss of planktonic eggs and the siting of fish breeding in shallow littoral situations, where other animal foods besides zooplankton are also available, especially for later stages of juvenile fish. The Ostariophysi breed in the shallow expanses of flood waters while the Cichlidae, some of which breed like Ostariophysi, also breed in standing waters in the littoral of lakes or floodplains. In all these locations zooplankton and benthic organisms, especially insects, are available. The cichlids are, in addition, provided with parental care. Predation on young fishes is also reduced by these strategies. Young fishes may also be adapted to feed on patches of zooplankton and other food in their breeding grounds. Tropical pelagic clupeids and cyprinids may breed continuously. Some of these clupeids in rivers breed at low water.
Zooplankton, supplemented by other animal food is more critical to achieving the potential fish yields in the tropics than in temperate freshwaters because fish yields in the tropics can be very high indeed. The high metabolic rate of young fishes in the tropics adds to the demand for food. Tropical freshwaters have a relatively high primary production but a low zooplankton/phytoplankton ratio. Zooplankton is kept small in size and biomass by continuous predation. Herbivorous fishes can sustain very high fish yields in the tropics but they must have a high fecundity and high survival of young produced seasonally, mainly in rivers or even continuously as in lakes and reservoirs to weather predation. Rich littoral zooplankton and benthos combined with omnivory and a higher efficiency in the use of the available animal food by newly hatched fishes may be critical factors linking fish yields to zooplankton in tropical freshwaters. The ability of herbivorous tilapias to give very high fish yields in shallow tropical lakes may also be due to their efficient use of animal food, algae and microphagy in young stages besides other favourable adaptations like opportunistic feeding on detrities and the ability to feed on and digest cyanobacteria, abundant in the tropics.
The high percentage of the global fish species found in freshwaters and the ability of some species to produce very high fish yields is proof that biological strategies used by freshwater fishes are highly successful. Recently, it has been shown that an ancient marine food chain duplicated in the ancient tropical lake, Tanganyika, is far more efficient than more recently evolved food chains in lakes and reservoirs. Understanding these strategies will assist both in fish culture and management of freshwater fisheries.
Lake communities like all biological communities are moulded dynamically by complex interactions. In temperate regions longterm studies are beginning to clarify some of these but in the tropics one can only make broad generalizations based on anecdotal evidence and speculation at the present time.
- tropical freshwaters
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Fernando, C.H. (1994). Zooplankton, fish and fisheries in tropical freshwaters. In: Dumont, H.J., Green, J., Masundire, H. (eds) Studies on the Ecology of Tropical Zooplankton. Developments in Hydrobiology, vol 92. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-011-0884-3_9
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