Wednesday, October 25, 2017

New spirlin species in Greece: Alburnoides economoui (Spercheios spirlin)

Spercheios spirlin in late Spring (sporting reproductive colours) - Photo by D. Koutsogiannopoulos.

Oct 25th 2017

The Spercheios river was known to be important for biodiversity since Alexander Stephanidis collected fishes there. A crossroads between the dry and biogeographically isolated Western Aegean river basins and the species-rich North (Macedonia-Thessaly Ecoregion). Stephanidis described a new 'subspecies' of Sprilin from here and from the adjacent Thessalian Pinios (Alburnoides spp thessalicus he called them both). He did not see morphological differences between the two rivers' fishes - their morphological differences are quite microscopic (he published in 1950...). What he could not know at the time is that these similar-looking fishes are so different...genetically.

Despite very similar overall looks, when compared to other European Alburnoides species the spirlins from the Spercheios differ remarkably at the genetic level from all other spirlin species. Genetic divergence to other spirlin species ranges from 7.3 to 8.8% (based on cytochrome b nucleotide sequences). An outstanding difference.

In our recent paper in Biologia we described the species from Sperchios as new to science:  Alburnoides economoui. We also redefine the spirlin species of the Macedonia-Thessaly Freshwater Ecoregion as Alburnoides thessalicus (Stephanidis 1950)- Thessalian spirlin. This presumably includes fishes of the Axios / Vardar, also within FYR Macedonia (so the Thessalian fishes are not exclusive endemic to Greece). Morphologically there are really only very slight differences and a lot of "character overlap" (various specific body part sizes and shapes show variation). Spercheios spirlin has a near complete scale-less keel and a slightly humped distinction behind the head, and some other minute character traits - all need expert measurment to distinguised the species. The identification traits show quite well in adults, not usually in young fishes. 

Finally, our paper shows that more work is needed to complete the naming of Greece's fishes (problems in the Epirus/Albanian spirlins persist). Also we show for the first time that Alburnoides bipunctatus (the European spirlin), the species' nominate race of the Danube, really does not exist in Greece. 

Why did we name it A. economoui?
We thought of various names. For example, Leonidas, the famous Spartan who fought the Persians near the Sperchios river in 480 BC.  But Alcibiades N. Economou soon came unanimously to mind... A man who has done so much for Greek ichthyology and for river conservation and for the Spercheios, he should be remembered. Alcibiades N. Economou, known as Alkis to friends, is one of the most important marine Ichthyologists to have worked in freshwater fish conservation in Greece... Since the mid '90s he helped catalogue and explore inland waters for fishes. One of the most important works he and Roberta Barbieri (et al.) did was an inventory of all water bodies in the Peloponnese and the West of Greece (Economou et al. 1999); this is a remarkable unpublished report providing amazing data on the natural history of Greece's endemics. Alkis also worked hard for the Sperchios basin biodiversity since the late '90s (with another intrepid explorer, Dr. Charalambos Daoulas). They made the Sperchios famous for its rare fishes - especially focusing on the Greek Stickleback (in fact they did the first conservation translocation of a population of sticklebacks that was successful). Alkis's research style is deep, long-term and holistically inquisitive. He has been concerned with biological conservation since his marine work (since the late '70s); and especially his freshwater career has helped many of us in Greece focus on the conservation relevance of our work. For me, Alkis has been especially important in helping Greece develop in the application of the Water Framework  Directive (WFD), especially scientific aspects of "reference conditions" as outlined in one of his seminal reports (Economou 2003). During the last 15 years he has spearheaded important fish-based techniques for WFD R&D in Greece (e.g. Economou et al. 2016). This includes no less than 7 attempts at bioassessment index building and the recent successful intercallibration of our model-based index (Tachos et al. 2016; Zogaris et al.- in review). Alkis is a deeply collaborative person and has worked with almost all Greek inland water ichthyologists, especially during the important projects to assess the conservation status of Greece's fishes and the publication of our first river basin species lists (Economou et al. 2007) and our recent annotated fish list (Barbieri et al. 2015). He also was the first Director of our new institute amalgam during hard times in the beginning of the recent Greek Crisis. He is an exemplary leader.

Please read our paper: 

(For references in the text above see our freshwater fish checklist, Barbieri et al. 2015)

Spercheios Spirlin, Male, (original holotype specimen, photographed at HCMR lab) - Photo by R. Barbieri.

Thessalian Spirlin, Male, (fresher specimen, photographed at HCMR lab) - Photo by R. Barbieri.

 Geographical distribution of the Alburnoides species in Greece. A: A. strymonicus (Strymon spirlin); B: A. thessalicus (Thessalian sprilin); C: A. prespensis (Prespa spirlin); D: A. prespensis complex (Prespa spirlin species complex); E: A. economoui sp. n. (Spercheios spirlin). 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sweet Tirana


19th and 20th of October, Tirana and Elbasan

I enjoyed Albania. Just posting a few sloppy photos - I have many more but no time to post creatively. Albania is interesting and underrated. Visit - you will really enjoy.

(In Tirana stay at the Antigone Hotel)

John Belushi was Albanian - sweet Albania remember him...

At the National Historic Museum, Tirana.

At the National Historic Museum, Tirana.

At the National Historic Museum, Tirana.

At the National Historic Museum, Tirana.

At the National Historic Museum, Tirana.

Radek Sanda and Vasso at the National Historic Museum, Tirana.

Food is like Greece, but costs much cheaper.

Vasso shoots and posts on instagram.

Everywhere you go, people speak Greek, and many nice acquaintances are easily made. 




Tirana! bilingual Albanian - Greek!!! (Never seen anything like this in any Balkan country).

In Tirana we met this Italian couple with their black parrot...really weird. 



Tirana! Colourful: mix of religions.

International Conference on Sustainable Water Resources Management - Alblakes 3 

Here... I'm trying to explain that my name has some kind of Albanian root (Zog = Bird). So why I am talking about fish?

Apostolos Apostolou: One of the best Ichthyologists in Bulgaria. Representing Bulgaria (but he's Greek, from Volos). 

Ermelinda Gjeta, Albanian botanist: Discusses floral records from a National Park. 

Sukru Dursan from Turkey. I told him how much I like "Giaour Ismir".

I was very happy to meet Professor Jonathan Titus from SUNY, New York.  

Albanian macrozoobenthos expert, Bledar Pepa. 

Elbasan Fortress with Radek, Vasso and Erica.

Devoll River and a dam near Gramsh Albania

October 22nd 2017. Post conference field trip

Field trip after the conference in Elbasan (Central Albania). Lots of Kosovar beer, raki, fine red wine. Ok.

Posting some snap-shots now, with good company, including the best ichthyologists and hydrobologists and nicest uni students in town. What a relief to be away in such an exotic country. The only country in the world where people will speak Greek back to you. And the hospitality is as good - or better- as Turkey...I am coming back to search for my relatives-ancestors maybe of the Zog family (the royal family) up in the north.

Thank you to all my wonderful colleagues and friends from University of Elbasan "Aleksander Xhuvani" and the Agricultural University of Tirana.

Beer from Kosovo. 


Alluvial filtration in the braided river up/stream of Gramsh. Devoll River (The fish Oxynoemacheilus pindus is common here).

Devoll River upstream of Gramsh.

Italian professor Genuario Belmonte from Lecce, Jonathan Titus from New York, Sotir Mali from Elbasan, Dean of Biology Dept. Elbasan University. 

Professor Sotir Mali, one of the nicest people in Albania.


Squalius platyceps (some kind of chub) in the Devoll reservoir (I'm serious).

Devoll reservoir (look at the amazing new roads in Albania!!!).

Me and my Constantinople girl. 

My best friend in Albania, Ichthyologist Prof. Spase Shumka from Tirana.

Thistles in the Autumn sun in Albania.

Chicken and Turkeys at the pazar on the outskirts of Elbasan. 

A wild Geranium (or Erodium) in Albania.

Echium italicum (i think) near the Devoll Reservoir downstream of Gramsh.
The new Dam.

Huge quantities of silt in the river bed at the head of the Devoll reservoir. Silt concentrates here due to the base level change caused by the new reservoir.

Upstream of Gramsh.

The silt. Oh the silt. Silt...Oh...

Lots of Arundo donax in Albania (foreground).

Huge new lake. The new Dam. We discussed the impacts. 

I liked Gramsh. Gramsh...

The river upstream of the industrial area of Elbasan (12 species of fish here).