The Cape kurper – Sandelia capensis

Sandelia capensis

Sandelia capensis

A case of good hope for this vivid freshwater rarity?

This month, billions of fans watch every day the World Cup in South Africa, but few are aware of the unique and extraordinary biodiversity of South Africa and especially the Cape region. Everybody with a basic knowledge about biodiversity is aware of the wonderful Cape flora. The “Capensis” is the smallest and richest per area of the world’s six floral kingdoms and everybody who has ever visited it, will never forget its shocking diversity and absolute beauty.

Everybody who is interested in freshwater biodiversity might wander through the inspiring landscapes and wonder, if there might also be a special and endemic life in the small streams and rivers. The waters which drain the “Capensis” are often coffee-brown and have a low pH as they flow out of the peat soils of the fynbos and first little life is to be seen.

In fact, there is a species-poor but highly endemic freshwater fauna at the Cape which is one of the most threatened in the world. Especially, there are several groups of endemic freshwater fishes, one of them, our species of the month, the Cape Kurper, Sandelia capensis. The genus Sandelia, being endemic to the Cape region, belongs to the family Anabantidae and is related to African and Asian climbing perches. Actually, two species are recognized but several other lineages have been discovered by molecular methods and the genus requires a taxonomic revision. Several of these lineages are threatened with extinction, but no reliable assessment can be made without understanding the distribution and taxonomic status of these lineages. Therefore, the Cape Kurper is listed as Data Deficient by the recent IUCN assessment.

In the Cape streams, there are additional endemics as three different lineages of tetraploid Barbus – next tetraploid Barbus occurs in North Africa – or freshwater Galaxias – a fish group which is only known from Australia, New Zealand and the southernmost South-America elsewhere.

Actually, the whole Cape fauna belongs to the most threatened freshwater faunas of Africa and the world. Alien fish as smallmouth bass, carp, Tilapias and rainbow trout have eliminated almost all native fish species from their original range. In most places they only survive upstream of waterfalls and dams, often in very, very small refuges. The loss of native fishes has changed very much the whole ecosystems and communities.

But, there is also good hope for biodiversity at the “Cape of good hope“. South African authorities are fully aware of the natural treasures of the “Capensis” and of the problematic situation of the endemic freshwater biodiversity. How to get rid of alien species from the rivers and streams is therefore a major and challenging question.

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