Additional External Researchers:
Dr. Ulrich Schleiwen
Locations: Democratic Republic of Congo
The Congo Basin has the highest species richness of fishes on the African continent and, at the global level, is second only in richness to the Amazon Basin (Lundberg et al., 2000). These fish provide food for local consumption in the cities and towns of the greater Congo basin (Thieme et al., 2003) and could probably be utilized much more effectively to counteract the currently unsustainable practice of bush meat hunting in the Congo (Shumway et al., 2003). Despite the critical importance of the Congo River fishery to human populations and as a major locus of global aquatic biodiversity, the fish fauna are remarkably poorly known. The most recent comprehensive work on the fishes of the Congo was published in 1901. Important collections have been made since, including numerous new species, new genera and even new families, but no attempts at an overall synthesis have been made.
Today the Congo with its most important tributaries (the Sangha, Ubanghi, Lualaba and Kasai) drains an area of more than 3 800 000 km2. It converges in a flat saucer-shaped depression, the Cuvette Centrale, before cutting through the Batéke-Plateau in an approximately 300 km long stretch interspersed with numerous cataracts and rapids. Given such a vast scale, the project is conceived in a series of phases. In the initial phase (3-5 yrs) the project will focus on the Lower Congo. All four of the main ecoregions of the Lower Congo and Malebo Pool (Thieme et al., 2003) now face numerous environmental threats. Much of the area became deforested following development of the railway along the Lower Congo in the early 1900s (Shumway et al., 2003; and Shumway, pers. comm.) but gallery forests still line sections of the river through the Lower Congo rapids and Lower Congo ecoregions. However, these remaining, riparian forests are threatened and Pusey & Arthington (2003) have outlined a direct correlation between the extent of riparian coverage and the diversity of species in adjacent freshwaters.
The goals of the Lower Congo fish project are to:
• produce more accurate descriptions of the local fish species present and assess their habitat and range based on historical and recent collections held in museums
• identify areas of special interest because of high species diversity/endemicity; these are likely to be associated with undisturbed ecosystems (Gardiner et al., 2003) which are of high priority for conservation
• identify areas where data are missing and where more collections are required
• identify historic and current land use and impacts on the riparian and aquatic ecosystems
• identify areas that are most at risk (from loss of riparian coverage, excess sedimentation from erosion/runoff, domestic and industrial pollution, introductions of exotic species and, most significantly, development of the Grand Inga dam in the lower rapids region).
• participate in the production of a faunal guide to the fishes of Lower Congo.
Cross Cutting Themes:
Department of Ichthyology, Division of Vertebrate Zoology,American Museum of Natural History
Zoological State Collection Munich ZSM, Department of Ichthyology, Münchhausenstrasse 21, D - 81247 München, Germany
Africa Museum, Vertebrate Section, Leuvensesteenweg 13, B-3080 Tervuren, Belgium
WWF - DRC Program Office, 6, Avenue Lodja- Quartier Socimat Commune de la Gombe, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
AMNH (in-house), National Geographic Society