Khalasa: Freshwater biodiversity is one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world, especially in India.
But it is alive and kicking in the western ghats if the study by researchers from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) published in the journal of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists is anything to go by. According to the study, a new species of fish has been found in the Tunga river of the Kudremukh National Park in the Western Ghats. The fish is currently known to be found only in the two streams of Mudba and Turad, a region populated by wet evergreen and semi-evergreen forests.
The male of the species measures 3-4cm in length and is red in colour, while the female is grey with a striking pattern of scales. Pethia striata is found in small groups of 3-4 individuals in shallow pools and would be an addition to the largest family of fish, scientifically called Cyprinidae, which includes common carp, goldfish, and zebrafish.
V. M. Atkore, an ecologist working in the Western Ghats for the last four years, had chosen Kudremukh National Park for sampling as no one had studied it before. “I had conducted pilot surveys in 2010-11 and was familiar with fish in the region. But this fish that I found in the park was different and after I sent a photo to my superior, it was confirmed this was new,” said Atkore, a PhD student at the Bangalore-based Suri Sehgal Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, ATREE.
Akore took measurements and photographs of male and female species which had striking colours and body patterns. The species was distinct in seven ways, but the most striking characteristics were the pattern of scales which form oblique bars and the black blotch just before the tail. “The ring is particularly apparent in the male and is distinct in this species,” he said.
“Biodiversity is booming in the Ghats, which is one of the biodiversity hotspots in India. But increasing human presence puts pressures on the natural resources and freshwater diversity is most sensitive to changes like water diversion and dams,” said Atkore. “We still get such new discoveries in the less disturbed streams and not in polluted streams, and such discoveries are important to increase conservation efforts for this area, particularly such river stretches and streams,” he added.
“There is progressive loss of freshwater biodiversity in the country and these systems are very badly protected,” said Madhav Gadgil, who served as the chairman of the Western Ghats Ecology Experts Panel which submitted its report to the central government in 2011.
Some of the recently discovered new species in the Western Ghats include a little jumping spider in the Southern Ghats, a new frog species in Central Ghats.