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Table 2: General patterns of fish family distribution across habitats and ecological niches within rainforest rivers. Habitats are modified from the system adopted by Lowe-McConnell (1975) based on the categories of Matthes (1964).

Habitat

Detritvores

Planktivores

Herbivores

Invertivores

Carnivores

Omnivores

Main Channel, Pelagic

Alestiidae

Clupeidae



Alestiidae

Alestiidae



Denticipidae?



Centropomidae

Cyprinidae

Main Channel, Benthic

Bagridae



Cyprinidae

Bagridae

Bagridae

Second & Third Order

Citharinidae



Mochokidae

Gobiidae

Mochokida


Cyprinidae



Mormyridae




Mormyridae






Streams Including

Cichlidae

Poeciliidae

Alestiidae

Anabantidae

Channidae

Alestiidae

Marginal-Littoral & Quiet

Citharinidae


Cichlidae

Cichlidae

Malaptururidae

Bagridae

Backwaters of the Main

Cyprinidae


Citharinidae

Cyprinidae

Nandidae

Cichlidae

Channel

Mormyridae


Mochokidae

Mochokidae

Notopteridae

Clariidae





Mormyridae

Polypteridae

Mochokidae





Polypteridae



Forest Streams




Schilbeidae




Citharinidae



Amphilidae

Amphilidae

Alestiidae





Anabantidae

Cichlidae

Clariidae





Aplocheilidae

Hepsetidae

Kneriidae





Bagridae

Mastecembelidae

Mochokidae





Clariidae







Cyprinidae







Mochokidae







Poeciliidae



Swamps




Schilbeidae




Clariidae



Anabantidae

Channidae

Clariidae


Mormyridae



Mormyridae

Eleotridae

Mornyridae





Pantodontidae

Protopteridae

Polypterdae





Phractolaemidae



There are a wide variety of Siluriformes in rainforest rivers, the most characteristic and commercially important as food fish being members of the Bagridae and Mochokidae, particularly the genera Auchenoglanis, Parauchenoglanis and Synodontis. These catfishes live in larger streams where they spend most of their time under heavy cover amongst submerged branches and tree roots under the banks, emerging at night to feed on benthic invertebrates. Little is known about their reproduction, but at least some species move into marginal swamps or weedy areas during high water to spawn.

The Citharinidae and Cyprinidae undertake large-scale reproductive migrations and so vary in habitat over the course of their life cycle. During the latter part of the long rainy season (October-December) large numbers of these fish move from the main channel up into first order streams where they reproduce en masse, leaving their offspring to feed in the forest, while themselves returning downstream. Their lifestyles and diets are extremely varied, ranging from piscivory to herbivory. Although full of bones, the larger species are important as food for human communities.

The Cichlidae tend to prefer smaller streams and quiet backwaters. They represent the entire range of diets from herbivory to piscivory and the juveniles of some species even eat detritus. Their complex social behaviours and vibrant colours make them attractive aquarium fish, but most species are small and they are not common in local fish markets. Cichlids breed year round in shallow marginal areas where the majority provide substantial levels of parental care.

The Mormyridae are well adapted to the variety of habitats available in forest rivers and exist in most of them, but the majority are found in second order streams of moderate depth and current. While some Mormyrids are diurnal shoal feeders, most are nocturnal insectivores probing about in the sediments for larval forms and using their electrical generating ability to navigate and identify conspecifics in the dark. They reproduce during high water periods when flooded swamps are available as nurseries. Mormyrids contribute substantially to the commercial and subsistence fisheries of the forest.

As in other river systems on other continents, juveniles and adults of many rainforest river species occupy different habitats in order to avoid competition and/or cannibalism. In general, adults tend to dominate areas with good foraging opportunities leaving smaller/younger individuals to shallower and swifter habitats where larger individuals cannot reach. Smaller species in general tend to be more specific in their habitat preference than are larger species (Kamdem-Toham and Teugels 1997).

CURRENT EXPLOITATION SYSTEMS

Welcomme (1976) estimated the total number of first order rainforest streams in Africa at over 4 million with a combined total length equal to half of all watercourses, making these the largest single riverine ecosystem on the continent. Of the 8 million people who live in the Lower Guinean rainforests, nearly 20 percent are more or less fulltime fishers. Estimates from Cameroon put the productivity of capture fisheries in forest rivers basins at 1.1 tonnes km-2 yr-1 (du Feu 2001). Extrapolated to the entire Lower Guinean forest, this translates into a cash value of approximately US$1.4 thousand million per year, more than twice the value of all other non-timber forest products combined. Average fish consumption in Cameroonian rainforests is around 47 kg person-1 year-1, compared to 10 kg for the general population (Obam 1992).

Fishing in rainforest rivers is severely constrained by the large quantities of wood that accrue in the streambed. By far the most common types of gear are passive set nets, traps and hook-lines of which there are a great variety in accordance with the diversity of the fish fauna. Also common, is a hook-and-line fishery dominated by small children and mainly targeting immature cichlids.

Seasonal spawning migrations are reported for a number of species, ("most" according to Lowe-McConnell, 1975). Fishing communities have learned to take advantage of these runs by constructing mesh barriers constructed of tree trunks and branches, bound together by vines and held in place by large stones (Figure 4). At the height of the rains, these structures are submerged and gravid adults pass easily over them. After spawning and spending several months upstream in flooded forests to forage, the adults once again head back downstream. However, by this time the water levels have declined and the fish find themselves trapped when they try to avoid the barrier. Juveniles apparently pass through the mesh without problem.

Figure 4. Atraditional fish dam constructed with locally available materials on the main channel of the So'o River, a tributary of the Nyong in South-Central Cameroon. Fish migrating upstream at high water to feed in flooded forests and spawn can swim over the top of the dam. As water levels decline, returning adults are captured while juveniles pass through the mesh.

In Cameroon, a special type of reproductive event, known as the "dok" takes place during the long rains in October-November. Doks involving Labeo batesii and Distichodus spp. have been documented in the Upper Cross and the Ntem, respectively. They typically last no more than a few hours or days. According to du Feu (2001), who interviewed fishers on the Upper Cross River in Cameroon, the village is alerted to the imminence of the spawning event by the upstream movement of fish. Two hours after the fish have passed, the water turns white with milt, at which time the villagers set nets to block the return of spawned out adults on their return downstream. Men do the fishing with cast nets or even clubs, while women clean and smoke the catch. Eggs are normally not taken to ensure the continuation of the runs for future generations.

There are at least two traditional fisheries that are allocated entirely to women. One involves the construction of small earthen dams across first order forest streams during the dry season to capture small Channids, Clariids and Mastecembelids. As water levels decline, the dams prevent fish from migrating downstream. When the water gets low enough, the women wade in and bucket out the remainder, catching the fish by hand or with the help of baskets. This practice is widespread in both the Lower Guinean and Congo ichthyological provinces and adds substantially to the protein intake of forest communities. Another fishery that is the exclusive domain of women is the use of woven basket traps to catch the freshwater prawn, Macrobrachium vollenhovenii (Figure 5).

Village leaders normally regulate access to a fishery. Such management techniques as prohibiting the collection of fish eggs during spawning runs and the prohibition of certain gears are traditionally enforced through the use of magic charms or "ju-ju". Villagers are free to fish as long at they follow the basic regulations. Visiting fishers, of which there are considerable numbers (an estimated 80 percent of fishers on Cameroonian rivers are of Malian or Nigerian origin) must first seek permission of the village leadership and then pay a token fee, normally in the form of palm wine or a percentage of the catch.

Despite these traditional management systems, over-fishing has become an increasing problem as the human population grows and puts increasing pressure on resources. In addition, the use of fish poisons has become increasingly frequent. Some of these are from local plants and cause only temporary harm, but most poisoners now use Lindane or Gammelin 20, an organochlorine insecticide used in cocoa production and highly destructive of the entire food web. Human deaths have been reported as a result of eating poisoned fish. A recent survey conducted on the Ntem

Figure 5. Fishing for freshwater prawns (Macrobrachium vollenhovenii) using woven basket traps is a traditional activity reserved exclusively for women in the Ntem River Basin.

River just upstream from the Campo-Ma'an Forest Reserve in Southern Cameroon found that insecticide fishing had completely disrupted local aquatic ecosystems and had permitted the extension of the range of the electric catfish, Malapterurus electricus into the small rivers where they were previously not found. Because of the powerful shocks emitted by this fish, women have been forced to abandon their traditional dam fishing in the area.

INTEGRATED WATERSHED MANAGEMENT

The productivity of rainforest river ecosystems depends upon maintaining the integrity of the entire series of biotopes of which it consists. Without the forest, there would be no material inputs that feed the fish in the lower reaches. Without the first and second order rainforest streams, there would be no reproductive migrations and, consequently, the number and diversity of fish would be drastically reduced. Without the main channel system, the overall productivity of the river would be seriously diminished.

Unfortunately, increasing population and poverty, coupled with false valuations of rainforest biodiversity have led to habitat destruction and over-exploitation (Stiassny 1996). The Congo Basin has already lost an estimated 46 percent of its rainforest to logging and conversion to agriculture and continues to lose forested watershed at an average rate of 7 percent per year (Revenga et al. 1998). In addition, these forests are being harvested in a largely irresponsible manner that not only takes out the valuable timber, but also crushes the under story, alters stream courses and increases runoff and siltation. Roads, saw mills and other infrastructure associated with logging attracts people into the forest, resulting in wholesale transformation of the ecosystem (Burns 1972, Garman and Moring 1993).

Kamdem-Toham and Teugels (1999) described the changes that occur in and around the rainforest rivers in the Ntem River basin as a result of poorly managed logging operations:

In terms of water quality, these changes in habitat resulted in large decreases in water clarity and dissolved oxygen and large increases in temperature and conductivity. In undisturbed sites, water was clear brown with a mean temperature of 23.5°, dissolved oxygen between 2.5 and 4.2 mg l-1 (measured at noon) and electrical conductivity between 20 and 30 nS cm-1. In sites affected by logging, the water was cloudy with a mean temperature of 34°, dissolved oxygen of <1.0 mg l-1 and average electrical conductivity of 48 nS cm-1. Changes of this magnitude can wreak havoc on aquatic life and may last for many years (Chutter 1969; Growns and Davis 1991).

Forestry management practices exist that could substantially reduce the negative impacts of logging (Davies and Nelson 1994; Smith, Brown and Pope 2001). An economic and social re-evaluation of rain-forest river fisheries in relation to timber exploitation might encourage changes in current forest management policy (CARPE 2001). However, substantial work needs to be done if the vested interests of politicians and logging companies are to be thwarted.

A first step is the generation of expert systems that can be used to monitor the status of aquatic ecosystems as changes take place in the watershed. Several attempts have been made at the generation of a workable Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) such as that used to track changes in temperate zone streams, but parameterisation has been a problem. The best effort to date in Central Africa is that of Kamdem-Toham and Teugels (1999), but gaps still exist. Existing datasets on aquatic biodiversity and ecology in Central Africa are weak, at best and this makes it very difficult to develop quantitative tools (Lévêque 1997).

Coupled with this valuation exercise should be the development of improved management and exploitation strategies that could actually increase the value of aquatic ecosystems and justify their preservation, while at the same time improving rural livelihoods. Forest river ecosystems are currently unmanaged and unregulated in any formal sense. The Department of Fisheries in Cameroon does not even have a policy or planned program of work on riverine ecosystems outside of a number of small dams (M.O. Baba, Director of Fisheries, personal communication, Yaoundé, April 2002). The most widely promoted method of increasing the productivity of aquatic ecosystems in Central Africa is to increase fishing pressure through the introduction of subsidies on motors and other fishing equipment and this without any clear idea as to the size of the resource or level of current exploitation.

While some increased pressure might be warranted in some areas, the upper limit for this strategy is probably already in sight for most places. Careful regulation of fishing gear and seasons based on scientific data might be a more widely applicable strategy for increasing catches of certain species in some rivers. In addition, integrated aquaculture in rainforest watersheds could take advantage of abundant water supplies and organic matter and might even be used in stock-enhancement or ranching where feasible or necessary. This might not be exclusively limited to the traditional food fishes. Species with value (both locally and internationally) as ornamental aquarium fishes are unusually abundant in rainforest rivers and fetch much higher prices per kilogram than food fish (Tlusty 2002).

Working with communities to both develop the tools and manage ecosystems might be worth trying (CARPE 2001). WorldFish Centre community based management of aquatic ecosystems program in Bangladesh has produced positive outcomes. Other agencies working in the rainforest, most notably the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have had some success in community forestry management and such efforts need to be strengthened and broadened to include the most valuable non-timber forest product of them all: rainforest fishes.

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Annex A. A provisional list of the freshwater fishes of the Lower Guinean Ichthyological province defined by Roberts (1975) and modified by Lévêque (1997). To compile this list, fish lists from Vivien (1991), Teugels et al. (1992), Kamdem Toham & Teugels (1997), Gosse (1999) and FishBase (2000) were compared and rationalized. Species with brackish or marine affinities are not included.

FAMILY

GENUS

Species

Alestiidae

Alestes

bartoni

batesii

jacksonii

macrophthalmus

schoutedeni

taeniurus

tessmanni

tholloni

Brycinus

imberi

intermedius

kingsleyae

longipinnis

macrolepidotus

nurse

opisthotaenia

Alestopetersius

hilgendorfi

Arnoldichthys

spilopterus

Brachypetersius

gabonensis

huloti

notospilus

Bryconaethiops

macrops

microstoma

quinquesquamae

Hydrocynus

forskalii

Micralestes

acutidens

elongatus

humilis

Nannopetersius

ansorgii

lamberti

Phenacogrammus

major

stigmatura

urotaenia

Rhabdalestes

septentrionalis

smikalai

Amphilidae

Amphilius

baudoni

brevis

longirostris

pulcher

thysi

Doumea

typica

Paramphilius

goodi

Phractura

ansorgii

brevicauda

clauseni

gladysae

intermedia

longicauda

scaphyrhynchura

Anabantidae

Ctenopoma

garuanum

kingsleyae

maculatum

nebulosum

nigropannosum

petherici

Microctenopoma

nanum

Aphyosemion

abacinum

ahli

amieti

amoenum

arnoldi

aureum

australe

avichang

bamilekorum

batesii

bitaeniatum

bivittatum

bualanum

buytaerti

calliurum

cameronense

celiae

cinnamomeum

citreinpinnis

coeleste

cyanostictum

dargei

edeanum

elberti

escherichi

exigoideum

exiguum

fallax

franzwerneri

fulgens

gabunense

gardneri

georgiae

hanneloreae

heinemanni

hera

herzogi

hofmanni

jorgenscheeli

kekemense

kouamense

lamberti

loennbergii

louessense

lugens

maculatum

marmoratum

mimodon

mirabile

ndianum

ocellatum

oeseri

ogoense

ottogartneri

pascheni

passaroi

primigenium

puerzli

punctatum

pyrophore

raddai

rectogoense

riggenbachi

robertsoni

rubrolabiale

schluppi

seegersi

sjoestedti

splendidum

splendopleure

striatum

thysi

tirbaki

volcanum

wachtersi

zygaima

Diapteron

abacinum

cyanostictum

fulgens

georgiae

Epiplatys

berkenkampi

callipteron

esekanus

grahami

huberi

infrafasciatus

neumanni

sangmelinensis

sexfasciatus

singa

Bagridae

Anaspidoglanis

ansorgii

boutchangai

macrostoma

Auchenoglanis

ahli

ballayi

guirali

longiceps

monkei

pantherinus

pietschmanni

Chrysichthys

aluuensis

auratus

dageti

filamentosus

furcatus

nigrodigitatus

ogooensis

persimilis

longidorsalis

nigrodigitatus

ogooensis

persimilis

thysi

walkeri

Parauchenoglanis

akiri

altipinnis

buettikoferi

fasciatus

grandis

guttatus

maculosus

Platyglanis

depierrei

Centropomidae

Lates

niloticus

Channidae

Parachanna

africana

insignis

obscura

Cichlidae

Chilochromis

duponti

Chilotilapia

rhoadesii

Chromidotilapia

batesii

finleyi

guentheri

loenbergi

kingsleyae

linkei

Gnathochromis

pfefferi

Gobiocichla

ethelwynnae

Hemichromis

bimaculatus

fasciatus

stellifer

Konia

dikume

eisentrauti

Myaka

myaka

Nanochromis

riomuniensis

Oreochromis

macrochir

schwebischi

Parananochromis

caudifasciatus

gabonicus

longirostris

Pelvicachromis

pulcher

subocellatus

taeniatus

Pungu

maclareni

Sarotherodon

caroli

galilaeus

linnellii

lohbergeri

melanotheron

mvogoi

steinbachi

Thysochromis

ansorgii

Tilapia

bakossiorum

bythobates

cabrae

cameronensis

camerunensis

deckeri

flava

guineensis

gutturosa

imbriferna

kottae

margaritacea

mariae

nyongana

snyderae

spongotroktis

tholloni

thysi

Tylochromis

sudanensis

trewavasae

Citharinidae

Congocharax

gossei

spilotaenia

Distichodus

engycephalus

hypostomatus

kolleri

notospilus

rostratus

Hemistichodus

vaillanti

Ichthyoborus

monodi

Nannaethiops

unitaeniatus

Nannocharax

altus

fasciatus

intermedius

latifasciatus

maculicauda

micros

ogoensis

parvus

rubrolabiatus

rubrotaeniatus

Neolebias

ansorgii

axelrodi

kerguennae

powelli

trewavasae

unifasciatus

Phago

loricatus

Xenocharax

spilurus

Clariidae

Channallabes

apus

Clariallabes

attemsi

brevibarbis

melas

pietschmanni

Clarias

agboyiensis

 

buthupogon

camerunensis

ebriensis

gabonensis

gariepinus

longior

maclareni

macromystax

jaensis

pachynema

plathycephalus

submarginatus

Gymnallabes

alvarezi

typus

Heterobranchus

longifilis

Clupeidae

Cynothrissa

ansorgii

Laeviscutella

dekimpei

Pellonula

leonensis

vorax

Sierrathrissa

leonensis

Thrattidion

noctivagus

Cyprinidae

Barboides

gracilis

Barbus

ablabes

aboinensis

aloyi

altianalis

alvarezi

aspius

batesii

bourdariei

brazzai

brevispinis

brichardi

bynni

callipterus

camptacanthus

cardozoi

carens

catenarius

chlorotaenia

compinei

condei

diamouanganai

guirali

holotaenia

hypsolepis

inaequalis

jae

lagoensis

lucius

malacanthus

martorelli

mbami

micronema

miolepis

mungoensis

nigeriensis

nigroluteus

occidentalis

prionacanthus

progenys

rouxi

roylii

stauchi

punctitaeniatus

stigmatopygus

sublineatus

sylvaticus

taeniurus

tegulifer

thysi

trispilominus

Garra

dembeensis

Labeo

annectens

batesii

camerunensis

coubie

cyclorhynchus

lukulae

ogunensis

parvus

senegalensis

variegatus

Leptocypris

crossensis

niloticus

Opsaridium

ubangense

Prolabeops

melanhypoptera

nyongensis

Raiamas

batesii

buchholzi

nigeriensis

senegalensis

Sanagia

velifera

Varicorhinus

fimbriatus

jaegeri

mariae

sandersi

steindachneri

tornieri

werneri

Denticipidae

Denticeps

clupeoides

Eleotridae

Eleotris

daganensis

feai

Kribia

kribensis

Gobiidae

Awaous

lateristriga

Sicydium

crenilabrum

Hepsetidae

Hepsetus

odoe

Kneriidae

Grasseichthys

gabonensis

Parakneria

abbreviata

Malapteruridae

Malapterurus

electricus

Mastacembelidae

Aethiomastacembelus

marchei

sexdecimspinosus

Caecomastacembelus

batesii

brevicauda

cryptacanthus

decorsei

flavomarginatus

goro

longicauda

marchei

marmoratus

niger

sanagali

sclateri

seiteri

Mochokidae

Atopochilus

savorgnani

Chiloglanis

batesii

cameronensis

disneyi

micropogon

niger

polypogon

Hemisynodontis

membranaceus

Microsynodontis

batesii

Synodontis

albolineatus

annectens

batesii

eupterus

guttatus

haugi

marmoratus

nigrita

obesus

ocellifer

polyodon

rebeli

robbianus

schall

steindachneri

tessmanni

Mormyridae

Boulengeromyrus

knoepffleri

Brienomyrus

adustus

batesii

brachyistius

curvifrons

hopkinsi

kingsleyae

longianalis

longicaudatus

sphecodes

Campylomormyrus

curvirostris

phantasticus

Gnathonemus

petersii

Hippopotamyrus

castor

Isichthys

henryi

Ivindomyrus

opdenboschi

Marcusenius

abadii

brucii

conicephalus

friteli

mento

moorii

ntemensis

paucisquamatus

Mormyrops

anguilloides

batesianus

caballus

zanclirostris

Mormyrus

caballus

felixi

hasselquistii

rume

tapirus

thomasi

Paramormyrops

gabonensis

Petrocephalus

ansorgii

ballayi

catostoma

guttatus

microphthalmus

simus

Pollimyrus

adspersus

lhuysi

marchei

pedunculatus

polylepis

walkeri

Stomatorhinus

polylepis

walkeri

Nandidae

Polycentropsis

abbreviata

Notopteridae

Papyrocranus

afer

Xenomystus

nigri

Pantodontidae

Pantodon

buchholzi

Poeciliidae

Aplocheilichthys

camerunensis

luxophthalmus

scheeli

spilauchen

Hylopanchax

stictopleuron

Hypsopanchax

catenatus

zebra

Plataplochilus

cabindae

loemensis

miltotaenia

ngaensis

terveri

Procatopus

aberrans

nototaenia

similis

Phractolaemidae

Phractolaemus

ansorgii

Polypteridae

Erpetoichthys

calabaricus

Polypterus

retropinnis

Protopteridae

Protopterus

dolloi

Schilbeidae

Parailia

occidentalis

pellucida

Pareutropius

buffei

debauwi

Schilbe

brevianalis

djeremi

grenfelli

intermedius

micropogon

multitaeniatus

mystus

nyongensis


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