Fishes of the continental waters of Tamaulipas: diversity and conservation status




García de León, Francisco J.
Gutiérrez Tirado, D.
Hendrickson, Dean A.
Espinosa-Pérez, Héctor

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Oxford University Press


With an origin dating back 400 million years, fishes represent the most ancient group of vertebrates (Helfman et al. 1997). They are also the most diverse, with more than 25,000 species. Of the more than 2200 species known from Mexico, about 500 live in freshwater. The Mexican Official Norm NOM-059-ECOL-2001 lists only 186 fish species among the 1515 vertebrates "At Risk" in Mexico (SEMARNAT 2002; see chapter 4). Fishes thus account for only 12.3% of all listed species in Mexico, compared to 30.8% for reptiles, 24.8% birds, and 19.5% mammals. Why are so few fishes listed in Mexico? The answer probably has little to do with actual conservation status and more to do with other factors. First, the great taxonomic diversity of fishes renders any comprehensive evaluation of their conservation status quite daunting. Not only are fishes more than half of all vertebrate species, but new species continue to be described every year (Helfman et al. 1997). Because fishes live only in water, they are more difficult to observe than are most other vertebrates. Finally, fishes show a high degree of intraspecific phenotypic variation that makes them highly sensitive to environmental factors and often difficult to identify (Allendorf et al. 1987; Allendorf 1988). Fishes are important to humans because they represent an important source of food. Their commercial and recreational value has led to fish farming on an industrial scale, both for easy exploitation and as a means to recover overharvested natural populations. Scientific interest in fishes is also considerable. Those species easy to manage in captivity can be used in laboratory experiments. Additionally, freshwater fishes in particular can be used as biogeographic indicators, contributing important information to our understanding of the history of river basins and serving as indicators of aquatic ecosystem health. Though their aquatic habitats perhaps make wild fish populations more difficult to study than terrestrial organisms, they clearly deserve greater emphasis in the field of biological conservation. The northern part of Mexico harbors 3 aquatic ecoregions known as the Sonoran, ChihuahuanPotosian, and Tamaulipan regions (ContrerasBalderas 1969). The Tamaulipan ecoregion is located between the Sierra Madre Oriental and the Gulf of Mexico, within the Mexican states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas (CONABIO 2000); the last of these states is the focus of this chapter. To the north, Tamaulipas is bounded by the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo), which marks the border with Texas. To the west, Tamaulipas is bounded by the Mexican states of Nuevo Leon and San Luis Potosi, to the east by the Gulf of Mexico, and to the south by the states of Veracruz and San Luis Potosi (fig. 7.1). The geomorphology of watersheds influences species richness (Eadie et al. 1986). For example, river discharge is a direct measure of availability of habitat for freshwater fishes (Livingstone et al. Patterns of Species Diversity and Ecological Importance of Natural Ecosystems 1982), and there is a positive correlation between species richness and surface area of a river basin (Horwitz 1978). Thus, anthropogenic alterations of a watershed can drastically reduce its associated biological diversity (Sheldon 1987). Decreases in total habitat area and habitat fragmentation (typically a result of dams) occur conjunctively, reducing not only the size of many populations but also the potential for dispersal and genetic flow (Frankham et al. 2001). Additionally, diversion canals linking once separate waterways, and the introduction of exotic species, are both leading to homogenization of aquatic faunas (Sheldon 1988). Due to the rapid increase in populations, northern Mexico has experienced major, humaninduced alterations and fragmentation of its watersheds and associated changes in the distribution of taxa and loss of biodiversity (Contreras-Balderas 1978). Clearly, any conservation effort requires an inventory of the ichthyofauna using a taxonomic and biogeographic approach, focusing on documenting and maintaining overall biodiversity, but also including the rare and endangered species. The specific objectives of the study described in this chapter were to evaluate the diversity of freshwater fishes in Tamaulipas, to characterize each watershed and analyze the status of its ichthyofauna, and to determine the level of anthropogenic impact on freshwater fish communities statewide. We begin with a description of the watersheds of Tamaulipas, then present a synthesis of the state of knowledge of taxonomy, biology, genetics, evolution, exploitation, and conservation of fishes in Tamaulipas and provide the first list of freshwater fishes assembled for the state.


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García de León, Francisco J., D. Gutiérrez Tirado, Dean A. Hendrickson, and H. Espinosa-Pérez. 2005. “Fishes of the Continental Waters of Tamaulipas: Diversity and Conservation Status.” In Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Conservation in Northern Mexico, edited by J-L.E. Cartron, G. Ceballos, and R.S. Felger, 138–66. New York, USA: Oxford University Press. ISBN 13-978-0-19-515672-0; 0-19-515672-2;