Dawkinsia is a genus you might not recognize the name of, but you’d probably recognize some of the fish that belong to it.
Commonly known as “filament barbs,” they’re found in the rivers around India and Shri Lanka and, prior to the new discoveries, there were nine recognized species in the genus. The most popular species is Dawkinsia assimilis, also known as the mascara barb.
But there’s also D. arulius, or Arulius barb; and D. exclamatio, or Dawkinsia exclamatio.
The first new species occurs in the Sita and Sowparnika rivers and was named Dawkinsia apsara after the cylestial nymphs in Hindu mythology. And though it looks similar to its relative Dawkinsia assimilis (mascara barb,) it is a different species.
The second species was discovered in the Muvattupuzha river in Kerala and was named Dawkinsia austellus. Austellus comes from the Latin word for “South,” a nod to the species’ distribution in Southern Kerala.
The third, and final species, was discovered in the Netravati river of Coastal Karnataka. It was named Dawkinsia crassa, coming from the Latin word for round or thick, in reference to its body shape. Though I do wonder what it would think if it knew this.
These discoveries were made by scientists from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS), and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune. The study was published in the international journal Vertebrate Zoology, which is published from Senckenberg Museum in Germany. It also, unexpectedly, cleared up some taxonomy confusion within the genus as well.
“It took almost eight years of extensive fieldwork, examination of historic specimens in museums, both in and outside India, and genetic analysis to understand the true diversity of these charismatic freshwater fishes, which are much sought-after globally as aquarium pets,” said Unmesh Katwate, who led the study.
With the stability of what makes Dawkinsia assimilis and Dawkinsia lepida, well, themselves, scientists will have a better idea on how to “…delineat[e] important freshwater key biodiversity areas, and [prioritize] conservation initiatives for the Western Ghats freshwater biodiversity.”
“Despite this updated publication, the taxonomy of fishes of the genus Dawkinsia remains poorly known and further intensive explorations and research will, no doubt, yield more new species from this group,” said Rajeev Raghavan, the South Asia Coordinator of the IUCN Freshwater Fish Specialist Group, who co-supervised the project.
And the Dawkinsia genus could use all the help it can get. Out of the nine previously known species, only eight have been listed by IUCN. And out of those eight, six species are vulnerable – or worse. With Dawkinsia lepida now officially separated entirely from Dawkinsia assimilis, hopefully, we’ll see the ninth species appear on IUCN’s list with the three new species soon behind.
You can read the overview or the published study in Vertebrate Zoology 70 (2) 2020.