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Astroblepus ubidiai

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA ACTINOPTERYGII SILURIFORMES ASTROBLEPIDAE

Scientific Name: Astroblepus ubidiai
Species Authority: (Pellegrin, 1931)
Common Name(s):
English Andean Catfish
Spanish Preñadilla

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered B2ab(ii,iii,iv,v) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2004
Date Assessed: 2004-04-30
Assessor(s): Velez-Espino, L.A.
Reviewer(s): Hilton-Taylor, C. (Red List Programme Office) & Darwall, W. (Freshwater Biodiversity Assessment Programme Office)
Justification:
Astroblepus ubidiai is known from six subpopulations, distributed in four different drainage basins, and their probabilities of escape to other refugia when the environment deteriorates are very limited due to natural and anthropogenic barriers between drainages. Total area of occupancy is estimated at less than 10 km².

Standard anthropogenic perturbations to preñadilla habitat are the deviation of water currents towards pasture grounds, the periodic vegetation clearing from creeks by communities in order to improve the water supply, the use of preñadilla as bait for largemouth bass fishing, the traditional custom of cloth washing in the water in springs, creeks and streams, and the traditional custom also of using aquatic bodies as corridors to move the cattle within the watershed. The use of the local agave called "cabuya" (Cactaceae) for the washing of clothes in the creeks and streams is known to have active chemical substances that kill aquatic fauna, including fish (L. Vélez-Espino, personal observation).

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Astroblepus ubidiai is the only historically documented native fish of the Imbakucha watershed, Imbabura, Ecuador. Preñadilla is the local name for all Astroblepus species of the Ecuadorian Andes regardless of taxonomic differences. In other areas of the Ecuadorian Andes the "preñadilla" has been declared as extinct (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores 1992).
Countries:
Native:
Ecuador
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Six A. ubidiai subpopulations were located in the region from information provided by indigenous residents, followed by extensive field surveys. These subpopulations are distributed in four different drainage basins and their probabilities of escape to other refugia when the environment deteriorates are very limited due to natural and anthropogenic barriers between drainages. Pasture grounds, fields, human settlements, and the presence of the piscivorous largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) in Imbakucha Lake appear to have resulted in the segregation of those populations within this watershed. Extensive sampling showed that the preñadilla is not presently found in Imbakucha Lake and that individuals are concentrated in small lotic-habitat fragments characterized by the presence of springs (Vélez-Espino, in press). Individuals of Astroblepus ubidiai are concentrated in small areas (range 40–650 m²) and restricted to island-like habitats, which can be properly defined as refuges. Each subpopulation appears demographically independent.
Population Trend: Unknown

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: The fact that the habitats of all subpopulations are springs is probably not only because those are the keystone habitats, but also because these are the habitats least favorable to the causes of decline. Caughley (1994) suggested the latter assumption as a safer preliminary hypothesis compared with assuming that the remnants of the species are in the most favorable habitat. Remnant subpopulations are located in refuges that provide certain resilience to habitat destruction and deterioration.

Preñadilla’s use of underground refugia was first mentioned by Humboldt and Bonpland (1805). Velez-Espino observed the preñadilla to enter interstitial spaces and penetrate into the outlet of springs. The importance of underground water in the life cycle of the species is not known but the genus Astroblepus is known to have troglobitic (exclusively subterranean) and troglophilic (facultative subterranean) species.
Systems: Freshwater

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Standard anthropogenic perturbations to preñadilla habitat are the deviation of water currents towards pasture grounds, the periodic vegetation clearing from creeks by communities in order to improve the water supply, the use of preñadilla as bait for largemouth bass fishing, the traditional custom of cloth washing in the water in springs, creeks and streams, and the traditional custom also of using aquatic bodies as corridors to move the cattle within the watershed. The use of the local agave called "cabuya" (Cactaceae) for the washing of clothes in the creeks and streams is known to have active chemical substances that kill aquatic fauna, including fish (L. Vélez-Espino, personal observation).

Overfishing may not have been a problem before the population was fragmented by habitat loss. The current fragmentation between subpopulations within the Imbakucha watershed has been enhanced by the introduction of exotics (Vélez-Espino 2003). Now the concentration of A. ubidiai in a few small localities increases its vulnerability and jeopardizes its persistence. The low probability that dispersers successfully reach other refuges hinders a positive effect of migration on the regional population size (see Fahrig and Paloheimo 1988). During the recovery of the traditional ecological knowledge it was evident that five of former preñadilla habitats were converted in reservoirs for human supply and floriculture, four were transformed in community-washing place, two were dried as a consequence of inappropriate agricultural activities, and one was converted into a religious sanctuary (the cave called "El Socavón" which traditional knowledge recognized as a former source of preñadilla). Another former refuge, the Araque spring, was observed in February 2000 to contain preñadillas, but by July of the same year it no longer contained preñadilla.

In the Imbakucha watershed (Proaño, Gallopogyo and Quinde), all six anthropogenic perturbations occur in all of the sites. Approximately 30,000 inhabitants distributed in 38 communities within an area of 150 km² have impacted on preñadilla habitat and could be a cause of the poor habitat quality.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The persistence of this unique Andean fish depends strongly on our understanding of its essential habitat and the capacity to measure habitat-quality trends whether they are the result of management or the consequence of the environmental impact produced by human activities.

More research is needed to understand the importance of subterranean water in the life cycle and resilience of A. ubidiai to habitat perturbations.

Citation: Velez-Espino, L.A. 2004. Astroblepus ubidiai. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 25 October 2014.
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