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Thursday, June 13, 2024

analysis sheds gentle on sub-Saharan Africa’s seahorses, pipefish and pipehorses

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Seahorses are thought-about fabled creatures by many; one thing that solely exists in outdated legendary tales of the ocean. However these curious animals actually exist – and so they’re not the one members of the Syngnathidae household of fishes. Different syngnathids are pipefish, pygmy pipehorses and seadragons, and all are enchanting.

Sadly, syngnathids all around the world are in danger. They face main threats, starting from each intentional and unintentional harvesting to habitat loss and alterations. Syngnathids are generally present in shallow, coastal environments, which magnifies the impacts of those threats.

Syngnathids, and particularly seahorses, are the topic of assorted international and regional analysis initiatives. They’re comparatively properly studied in lots of components of the world. That is, nevertheless, not true for sub-Saharan Africa. Many of the printed analysis from the area has centered on the endangered Knysna seahorse (Hippocampus capensis) and the critically endangered estuarine pipefish (Syngnathus watermeyeri), each present in South Africa. Just lately, a pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus nalu) was additionally found in Sodwana Bay, South Africa – the primary ever recorded from Africa.

However South Africa is only one nation on an unlimited continent. This prompted us to conduct a complete evaluate of the range, distribution, ecology and conservation standing of the household Syngnathidae in sub-Saharan Africa and adjoining islands. We tried to collate all present info, information and observations of syngnathids within the area.

Our findings unveiled a complete of 63 syngnathid species throughout 26 genera within the research space. Mozambique exhibited the best species variety, adopted by Madagascar and South Africa. There have been many fascinating, thrilling information factors, however it additionally turned evident that regionally a lot must be completed by way of analysis and conservation motion on the bottom (or quite, within the water!).

How we did it

It’s no simple activity to assemble info for this type of evaluate, particularly as a result of there isn’t numerous printed info obtainable. As a primary step, we did a deep dive to collate all peer reviewed printed articles, in addition to info produced outdoors conventional publishing and distribution channels, comparable to administration plans and authorities paperwork.

A photograph of a small, long and thin sea creature with a pointed nose. It is blue and orange.
Louw Claassens, Creator supplied (no reuse)

We then turned to the African marine group, reaching out to our community of eager divers and researchers inside the area. We additionally used numerous citizen science platforms comparable to iSeahorse and even created an iNaturalist venture for all syngnathid observations in sub-Saharan Africa. On iNaturalist, individuals may log their observations with the placement, drawing on the broader group for assist with identification the place wanted.

Learn extra:
How an underwater picture led to the invention of a tiny new seahorse species

The response from the marine group and observations logged on iNaturalist yielded some fantastic outcomes. As an illustration, the invention of a new species of pipehorse, at present beneath peer evaluate.

What we discovered

As soon as all the information was collected and collated, some key findings emerged.

There may be restricted info on the biology of sub-Saharan syngnathids, making it powerful to know the inhabitants dynamics, habitat use and affiliation, and life historical past of species. This highlights the necessity for additional species-specific analysis.

A photograph of a sea creature whose snout resembles a sea horse's but whose body is long and thin. It is brown with small white spikes.
Nannocampus sp, a species of pipefish.
Louw Claassens, Creator supplied (no reuse)

Most assessments that included info on syngnathid populations got here from basic fish surveys. It is vitally powerful to seek out syngnathids and so they are usually sparsely distributed, so focused survey approaches are wanted to detect them.

Twenty % of syngnathid species discovered within the area are listed as information poor on the IUCN Purple Record. One instance is Bulbonaricus brucei, which is simply identified from its sort specimen (the primary specimen collected and used to explain the brand new species). There have been no printed observations of this species after its preliminary description in 1971. This highlights the necessity for regionally vital and present information.

Learn extra:
DNA within the water reveals South African scientists the place to discover a uncommon pipefish

Sub-Saharan syngnathids are prone to the identical threats as species elsewhere on the earth, like harvesting, poaching, impacts from by-catch and habitat loss and alteration. We concluded that completely different species face various kinds of threats primarily based on the place they’re discovered alongside the seascape. Equally, what would work by way of conservation actions relies on the species and the place it’s discovered.

As an instance this, we created a schematic summarising the primary threats and essentially the most appropriate conservation actions throughout the seascape for all syngnathids present in sub-Saharan Africa.

Extra to be taught

It’s clear from this evaluate that sub-Saharan Africa is house to many strange syngnathids. We imagine that many stay to be found. Nevertheless, it’s also obvious that analysis and conservation actions should be scaled up. Scientists have to conduct extra species-specific assessments to develop regionally vital administration and conservation actions. It’s additionally essential to untangle syngnathid variety and taxonomy within the area for deeper understanding, mixed with the event and assist of native experience.


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