Sunday, January 3, 2016

How many species of freshwater fish in Greece: A new book!

New checklist  May 2015

How many species of freshwater fishes in Greece?
The ichthyologists at IMBRIW- HCMR have for years worked on answering this question. Its not easy. And it is important.

We're talking about "species" - a supposedly solid taxonomic unit. is not that solid or easily defined!

The concept of species has evolved. And now, following the Phylogenetic Species Concept (contra the Biological Species Concept) a major revision of species entities has taken place. In Europe the 'revolution' crash-hit us when Maurice Kottelat and Jörg Freyhof published their "Handbook of European Freshwater Fish" in the summer of 2007. This book provided a kind of whole-scale validation for many new species of inland fishes in Europe ("new" chars, whitefish, salmons, trout). All of a sudden we had many  new species, many of them formally and/or formerly known as subspecies just a few months before. Following the new 'evolutionary' approach to species definition, the notion of sub-species is dead. So even if our country is already famously rich in fish species - what do you do when many of the former entities are split-up with new shiny names?

Now how many in Greece?

In April 2015 we published our annotated list and conservatively defined the number at 160 species firmly following our colleagues Maurice and Jörg. Our new checklist booklet is not one to purport brevity - so if you do read it you will see that we do point to the controversies the new species concept has created.

Now how did we keep track?
This is not easy for the following reasons:

a) Several species groups are poorly studied and need to be re-assessed; studies are in the pipeline that will certainly increase the species number, especially where former subspecies existed. So we expect to see at least another 10 species entities arise within the decade - this is a conservative estimate but we have firm evidence that new species units will be described in the genera of Squalius, Eudontomyzon, Alburnoides, Knipowitschia, Barbatula, Gobio, Rutilus and maybe others!

b) Some species are not only created but may be "lumped" into others and re-assessed not as species but as local population units at best. This may be possible but I predict not many such changes will occur. There are some fish that may fall into this category (one or to Cobitid loaches I believe). Also the new taxonomic work may show that species that were to exist in this country are now proven not to exist since the Greek populations belong to other species. (We did "lose" two species in this way during the last list revision - Salmo dentex and Barbus rebeli where recently deleted from the Greek fish list).

c) Aliens species.They come and "go". Now we confirm 23 species are aliens (the last list had 29!) We have proved that several species where never really established and we have no evidence of several species that were included on Greece former ichthyofaunal list. This issue needs careful monitoring. 

d) The evidence of many Mediterranean marine transient fishes in fresh waters is growing; surely the line is not black-and-white. Already many fish that breed solely in marine waters are included in the freshwater list (grey-mullets and eel for example). And including these migratory fishes is commonplace in most inland faunal country assessments worldwide. Some marine fish are common, widespread and often found in pure freshwater conditions not just the brackish river mouth extremes (a.k.a. transitional waters). Our 2007 list estimate guesstimated that at least 55 'marine' species are frequent migrants or transients into transitional waters (river-mouths, coastal marshes etc). So we need to work on criteria to include the most frequent - pervasive marine transients in the inland waters list. I wager this will help the inland waters list increase by about another dozen fishes within the decade. 

So its at 160 and 47 are exclusive endemics to the Territory of Hellas. 

Where do we go from here?

Web-based ichthyofaunal tracking tool:

We are now building a special website that will include all photos/drawings of fishes in Greek inland waters. Plus added information on identification, distribution and conservation and their common names (we especially worked hard to help standardize common names). The web-based tool will also be in Ελληνικά. The first phase of this project will be on air after June 2016. So please keep watching IMBRIW at:

The fish checklist booklet is available free-of-charge as a PDF download at and hardcopies may be ordered for libraries and scientific institutions from

The book can also be ordered free-of-charge, if one writes a polite note to us at: 

c/o Mrs. Sofia Giakoumi,
Institute of Marine Biological Sciences and Inland Waters - IMBRIW
46,7 km Athens-Sounio, Anavissos, Attiki, GR-19013 Greece
Tel.: +30 22910 76393
The Aoos river near the Greek-Albanian border: Several new species recently became named and valid as such in this river just in the last 10 years. Still we have doubts about the valid names of at least couple of species (Squalius, Chondrostoma). Research is needed to clear up the taxonomy in this globally important ichthyofaunal area.
Without genetic work it is no longer possible to identify most trout species in Greece. There are five species of native trout. However, unfortunately these fishes are being genetically polluted by mixing through unregulated stocking practices. Stocked fish sometimes show deformities they made in hatchery enclosures (see dorsal fin on this fish from the upper Acheloos - caught at near Anthousa Village in 2007).

The Endengered Beotian Riffle Dace (Τelestes beoticus). This species has a very restricted distribution and seems to require good flowing waters - it may be rarer than we think. More research is urgently needed. (Photo near Livadia in the Kiffisos river catchment).
One of the most enigmatic fishes in this part of the world is the anadromous Atlantic Sea Lamprey. This one was caught by a spearfisher on Kefallonia. We have anectodal evidence for the fish in the Louros river, it may spawn elsewhere. It si a protected species and very rare in Greece. (photo from Tassa Gouzi (Τάσσα Γρουζή) from Kefalonia, downloaded from: The find was published  in

Common Carp in Greece...does the wild form exist? Probably not,  as our book states. Perhaps the wild stock should be considered extirpated. This photo from the Aliakmon River near Polyphyto reservoir shows a wild-like form of Carp. It did look a lot like the sazan type of the Danube to my experienced friend, Uwe Dussling (Photo by Alkis Economou).

Manos Sperelakis, Yannis Kapakos and Graphics Artist and Publisher, Aris Vidalis (R) with a pallet of Books at HCMR.

The drawings in the book are by our Italian colleague Roberta Barbieri who has been part of the HCMR team since the late 1980s. This is certainly one of the most important aspects of the book - not just decorative. (Catfish).

Finally some notes about HCMR's new book:

The new annotated checklist of Greece’s freshwater fishes was  published in April 2015, the latest such booklet since Economidis’s 1991 seminal popularized checklist. The 134 page book features a brief introduction and carefully coded annotated accounts for 160 species. Particular emphasis is given to the interpretation of recent name changes and taxonomic validity. The book stresses the conservation value of Greece’s freshwater fishes; 47 taxa are noted as exclusively endemic to Greece and there are still important knowledge gaps on the taxonomy of several taxa. Many species are threatened at a global scale and there are fears that some may already be close to extinction; a notable example being the Vistonis Shad (Alosa vistonica) endemic to Lake Vistonis, a large wetland system which has suffered from extreme water abstraction, salinization and pollution. This book’s compilation is based on a group effort; it is authored by 12 members of HCMR and is illustrated with fine line drawings made by Roberta Barbieri. Professor Konstantinos I. Stergiou provides a forward and lends support to initiatives that strive to scientifically compile and maintain national fish checklists.

And finally some thanks to all who helped so much.

Firstly there are many poeple who keep reminding us to dessemintate our work to the public - to popularize our work. These people send us photos and location information about fishes in Greece - and this book is really inspired by them.

I want to thank some people for really working carefully on this book. First of all Alkis Economou who passed through the book with fine-toothed comb so many times. The rest of the team worked extremely hard - it's hard to explain how hard it is not making mistakes in a checklist! Evan simple things like the fishes totally lenghs need to be checked and re-checked. The English was edited my good cousin in Minnesota, Emily Green. And finaly Dimitra Bobori, Jörg Freyhof and Nicolas Bailly did an excellent job of reviewing and finding even more uncertainties and details. I especially want to thank Jörg Freyhof - who is an expert naturalist and knows about lists. And finally our friend Aris Vidalis for publishing with patience.  

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