Researchers in the Kimberley have practically stumbled across 20 new species of fish. The record breaking discovery will mark the remote Kimberly region as having the most biodiverse range of freshwater fish in Australia.
“The freshwater ecosystems of the Kimberley are among the poorest known and least researched areas of Australia,” said Tim Dempster, the team’s leader from Melbourne University’s School of Biosciences.
The discovery is the largest addition to catalogues of known species of Australian freshwater fish, it increases the recorded number of by a jump nearly ten per cent.
“If we can double the number of known fish species unique to the Kimberley in just three years, it can only mean the entire biodiversity of life in Kimberley rivers is underestimated,” said Dempster.
“Certainly, it is a treasure trove for freshwater fish—and the amazing thing is that we weren’t even looking for it.”
The discoveries were made over the course of a nine-month period of fieldwork across the Kimberley. The venture was originally taken to learn the conditions of known species of freshwater fish and their possible extinction risks.
Head author of the team’s paper on extinction risks, Matthew Le Feuvre expressed concern for the welfare of the newly discovered species.
“Many of the 18 known and 20 newly discovered species unique to the Kimberley share similar characteristics with fish species elsewhere in Australia that are conservation listed as vulnerable, threatened or endangered,” said Le Feuvre.
“However, currently no fish species in the Kimberley are conservation-listed, despite their potential vulnerability.”
Team members were hopeful that their discovery would lead to better conservation of marine life in the Kimberley and elsewhere in Australia.
“A lot of these new fish species are unique to just one catchment, so they’re particularly vulnerable if there is a change to their limited habitat,” said team member James Shelley, co-discoverer of 12 of the twenty new species.
“Fish are just the tip of the iceberg. This discovery has major implications for conservation, particularly in light of the Federal Government’s moves to modify water resources in northern Australia.”