Primitive Fishes and Modern Fisheries: The Role of Living Fossil Species in Conservation Ecology & Management

Thursday, September 12, 2013: 9:00 AM
Miller (Statehouse Convention Center)
Solomon R. David , Daniel P. Haerther Center for Conservation & Research, John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL
Living fossils and primitive fishes are somewhat antiquated designations given to species that appear to have changed little over geologic time in comparison to their fossil ancestors.  Examples of these fishes are the coelacanths (Latimeria spp.), lungfishes (Dipnoi), sturgeons (Acipenseridae), and gars (Lepisosteidae).  Unfortunately many of these species are often ignored in the context of fishery management and conservation, often seen as mere evolutionary novelties, and in several historic cases the subjects of eradication efforts.  Some North American ancient fishes, such as sturgeons and paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) have seen much-improved management efforts in the past two decades, whereas others such as gars and bowfin (Amia calva) lag far behind and are still considered “trash fish” throughout much of their range. Recent studies suggest, however, that these evolutionary relicts are key components of native food webs, serve as environmental indicator species, and contribute to local biodiversity.  I reviewed historic and current studies on North American primitive fishes in the context of fisheries management and conservation ecology, identifying areas of progress, knowledge gaps, and future research.