The Hunt for Rare Fish

The Hunt for Rare Fish

During the week of the 10th – 14th October several members of our research group, Dr. Gordon O’Brien, Mahomed Desai, Céline Hanzen and Lungelo Madiya, who were accompanied by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Aquatic Ecologist, Skhumbuzo Khubheka, went on a survey to locate some of our rarer fish species in Northern KZN. The area falls within the uSuthu-Mhlathuze Water Management Area and includes South Africa’s first World Heritage Site, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park as well as the Maputaland Centre of Endemism. Apart from its ecological importance, the area is also utilised for an array of socio-economic activities.

This was a preliminary survey and was meant to confirm the presence of our target species in certain systems and to collect DNA samples. Further surveys will be more undertaken that will be more protracted to allow for effective and relatively comprehensive sampling at sites.

From left - Skhumbuzo Khubekha, Dr. Gordon O'Brien, Mahomed Desai, Lungelo Madiya and Céline Hanzen

From left – Skhumbuzo Khubekha, Dr. Gordon O’Brien, Mahomed Desai, Lungelo Madiya and Céline Hanzen

The first day was just set aside for travelling and brain-storming to identify possible sites where the species could be located. Our base was Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park.

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While the landscape is scenic and the large mammals attract many visitors , it is important to highlight and make the public aware that it is the smaller organisms that create a functioning ecosystem (such as the dung beetles pictured above). Whilst driving up from Durban we noticed that the area had received some rainfall which provided some respite from the drought that we are currently facing.

The first site was located on the southern end of Muzi Pan on the floodplain of the Mkuze River. Prior to sampling for fish we collected in situ water chemistry. With regards to this survey, fish were sampled using an electrofisher and seine nets. Thereafter, biotope details were recorded including depth, velocity, substrate and cover features.

Mahomed calibrating the water meters

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Lungelo and Skumbuzo ready for sampling !

 

 

 

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Brycinus lateralis

While the site yielded a relatively high diversity and abundance of species, none of our target species was recorded while going through the samples, until success; a single individual of a Brycinus lateralis was found! It is concerning that only a single individual was collected as unlike the other widespread Brycinus species in South Africa, B. lateralis is restricted to the Lake St. Lucia catchment.

 

The day we arrived, the Hluhluwe River in the reserve had reasonable flows compared to when we sampled there in September, when it was just a series of pools. Therefore, we decided to sample the river on the second day but outside of the park. However, when we arrived at our pre-selected site from Google Earth it was just a pool. Another success! We collected a few specimens of Micropanchax myaposae

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Pool on the Hluhluwe river

 

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Micropanchax myaposae (female)

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Micropanchax myaposae (male)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were somewhat surprised at collecting a resaonable diversity of species at the site given that trucks were abstracting downstream as well as the presence of relatively large quantities of solid waste.

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Water abstraction on the Hluhluwe river

Furthermore, we wondered as to why the Hluhluwe river was flowing in the park but not where we had sampled. Then while looking at satellite imagery we identified a dam on the Hluhluwe River. The dam level was relatively low and consequently, there would need to be relatively high levels of precipation upstream in the catchment to fill the dam and to ensure adeqaute flows downstream.

 

 

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On day three the weather turned for the worse but we nevertheless sampled. The selected site was a swamp forest stream in suburbia in Richards Bay, a predominantly industry based town.

The site was dominated by Barringtonia racemosa, a protected tree, and possessed specimens of Voacanga thouarsii whilst the understorey was dominated by ferns. It was in this stream that we recorded 7 Clarias theodorae, another rare species that we were hoping to collect. Unfortunately, the stream is negatively impacted as surface runoff from nearby hardened surfaces drain into it and noticeable quantities of solid waste were present in certain sections. In addition, stormwater drains were present adjacent to the stream and if these are blocked with solid waste and spill, the water quality will deteriorate.
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Clarias theodorae

Clarias theodorae

Unfortunately we were not able to find some of the other species that we were searching for. Although we did collect the aforementioned species that we were targeting, they were never present in relatively high  abundances. There were several other sites that we had sampled but we did not collect any of our target species. Were they not present at these sites? or are they so cryptic that we could not collect them? Do they have particular habitat requirements? These are some of the questions that need answering.

We did notice that all of the sites that we sampled were negatively impacted by anthropegenic influences. If unsustanibaly utilised and/or mismanaged we could lose our natural heritage and their associated ecosystem goods and services, upon which society itself relies.

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