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Scientists confirm dorado catfish as all-time distance champion of freshwater migrations

Full migratory life-cycle distance of dorado catfish stretches from Amazon River estuary to the Andes Mountains

Wildlife Conservation Society

New York (February 6, 2017) - An international team of scientists has confirmed that the dorado catfish (Brachyplatystoma rousseauxii) of the Amazon River basin holds the record for the world's longest exclusively freshwater fish migration, an epic life-cycle journey stretching nearly the entire width of the South America continent.

The finding, published today in the journal Scientific Reports-Nature, is an output of WCS's Amazon Waters Initiative, sponsored by the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) led by WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS).

The study reveals the amazing life histories of the dorado and three other "goliath" catfish species that spawn in the western headwaters of the Amazon. The journey of the dorado catfish specifically begins with adults and pre-adults traveling thousands of kilometers upriver from the Amazon River estuary to spawning areas in or near the Andes Mountains. The breeding fish never return to their nursery areas, but the newborn catfish do, migrating thousands of kilometers in the opposite direction to complete the cycle. The dorado catfish was found to have a life-cycle migration of approximately 11,600 kilometers (more than 7,200 miles).

Growing up to nearly 6 feet in length, the dorado catfish is sometimes called the gilded catfish due to its silver and gold skin with no scales. The dorado and the other three closely related species are widely distributed in the Amazon River basin and are among the most important commercialized species. The paper's authors warn that looming development plans for proposed dams, mining operations, and deforestation--especially in the Amazon's headwaters where these fish spawn--could imperil these long-distance migrants and the fishing industries that rely on them.

"This is the first time that scientific research has linked the full range of these fish species, some of which stretch from the Andes to the Amazon River estuary abutting the Atlantic Ocean," said lead author Ronaldo Barthem of Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi of Brazil. "These findings can now inform effective management strategies for these fish, some of which are important for fishing industries in the region."

"One of the biggest threats to the dorado catfish and other fish species is headwater infrastructure development in the Andes that could heavily impact the spawning grounds of the world's longest freshwater migrants," said WCS aquatic scientist Michael Goulding, a co-author on the study.

Whereas the journeys of fish such as salmon and eels are well known, the migratory movements of goliath catfish have been less understood and poorly documented, although it was suspected that goliath catfish make the longest freshwater fish migrations in the world.

To confirm this hypothesis, the research team mapped the long-distance movements of four goliath catfish species (Brachyplatystoma rousseauxii, B. platynemum, B. juruense, and B. vaillantii) using information on the presence of adult fish, juveniles, and larvae across the Amazon. The scientists also statistically analyzed the downstream migrations of juvenile fish and larvae from the headwaters of the Amazon's tributaries to the nurseries.

The study results revealed that adult dorado catfish traveling upstream from the Amazon estuary may take as long as 1-2 years to reach their spawning grounds in or near the Andes. The scientists also confirmed that at least two other goliath catfish species (B. platynemum, and B. juruense) spawn near or in the Andean foothills, and suspect that there are other species as well.

The researchers added that the newly published goliath catfish study will serve as a foundation for later research. Tagging experiments and analyses of isotopes in calcium deposits in the inner ear of fish can both be used to study the migratory pathways of goliath catfish and the seasonal timing of those movements.

"Many questions remain about these incredible fish, such as why they travel so far to reproduce and do they return to place of birth to spawn," said Goulding. "Now we have a baseline that will help direct the trajectory of future research and conservation efforts."

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The authors of the paper titled "Goliath catfish spawning in the far western Amazon confirmed by distribution of mature adults, drifting larvae and migrating juveniles" are: Ronaldo B. Barthem of Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi of Brazil; Michael Goulding of WCS; Rosseval G. Leite of Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia; Carlos Cañas of WCS; Bruce Forsberg of WCS; Eduardo Venticinque of Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte of Brazil; Paulo Petry of TNC; Mauro L. de B. Ribeiro of Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística; Junior Chuctaya of Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul of Brazil; and Armando Mercado of WCS.

This research was conducted by the Amazon Waters Initiative expert working group supported by Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP), a partnership of The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The Amazon Waters Initiative is generously supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas, USAID, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world's oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: newsroom.wcs.org Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.

The Science for Nature and People Partnership Founded in 2013, the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) is the world's premier innovation engine of conservation science and sustainable development policy, partnering with public, non-profit and private sector organizations around the world to transform the relationship between people and nature. Backed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. SNAPP funds, convenes and supports Expert Working Groups addressing challenges in four focus areas: Food Security and Nature, Water Security and Nature, Climate Change and Resilience, and Valuing Ecosystem Services. SNAPP has been generously supported by Angela Nomellini and Ken Olivier, Shirley and Harry Hagey, Steve and Roberta Denning, Seth Neiman, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods, blue moon fund, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. For more information, visit http://snappartnership.net/

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the Bay Area. Visit http://www.moore.org or follow @MooreFound.

The U.S. Agency for International Development administers the U.S. foreign assistance program providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world's most pressing social challenges, including over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, and significantly increasing capital for the social sector. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsible and responsive democracy; the strength and vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago; and generating new knowledge about critical issues.

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