History of the Fish Ark Project

Omar Domínguez explained in his speech the specific situation of Mexico, a country of high biodiversity, divided by two biogeographic provinces (neartic and neotropical), that leeds to a lot of endemic species in the transitory area, the Mesa Central. The country notes 2.160 species of fish (USA and Canada about 2.270), that means nearly the same number of fish by only 20 % of the territory! Mexico has got about 520 freshwater species, of which 163 species are endemic (32%), 70 % of them are living in Central Mexico. This is awakening a high interest for the conservation of freshwater fish in this area, in particular, because this area, the home range of Goodeids and other endemic species, is a land with a very high level of land transformation and a large population density. 

The general objective of the Aqualab at its begin, was to contribute to the conservation of endemic species and to create a sustainable management of epicontinental aquatic resources in Mexico. To prevent extinction and to promote conservation, the main scope has been to maintain a bank of germoplasmin exsitu under controlled conditions. When it started in 1997, the university had been keeping mainly ornamental fish and Tilapia, but this changed fast with the official start of the Fish ark in 1999 and the first field trips to collect Goodeid fish. The whole facility comprised 80 aquariums, filter and aeration system for all the the tanks (80,000 l) and aquariums. The Aqualab sold the ornamental fish and Artemia to support a part of the Fish ark until 2001; in 2002 the field trips continued. The year 2006 brought more field trips, a facility for breeding artemia, a new framework of concrete for more tanks and a very important quarantine area. Field trips went on in 2008 and 2010. The first seminatural pond have been finished in 2008 and populated with Zoogoneticus tequila, Neotoca bilineata, Allotoca goslinei and Allodontichthys polylepis (in 2010 all species except Allotoca goslinei and Allodontichthys polylepis have been detected again, in 2011 also Alllotoca goslinei). Another pond has been established in 2010 and populated with Characodon audax, Chapalichthys pardalis and "Xenotoca" melanosoma.

Outside the Aqualab area, projects are done by scientists and students from the university, like cooperations with zoos, like the parques zoologicos in Morelia and San Luis Potosí. For the future, it os possble, that the Aqualab will keep - besides Goodeids - also other endangered Mexican fish, namely Catostomids, Cyprinids, Ictalurids or Atherinids, but no Poeciliids because of having no good conditions for them (Poecilids come mainly from the lowlands and like it tropical). 
New research work includes periodic sampling of fish to determine the historical distribution and the conservation status. This is necessary because 73.4% of the distribution area of the Goodeids are altered habitats, including  82% of the localities having at least 1 exotic species (40% with Carp and Tilapia, 12% with Bass, 8% with Poecilids). 60% of the species show 50% of area-reduction and 15% were lost in more than 70% of the area! Meanwhile, 10 species are extinct in nature. The influence of tropical fish is shown by Poecilia mexicana in the extinction risk of Ameca splendens, Goodea atripinis and Zoogoneticus tequila. The last-named species might have been disappeared because Poecilia mexicana prefered the same food. However the climatic change will help tropical species against endemic species. 
New techniques have been used to increase the knowledge about fish biodiversity. In the last 5 years, one family of fish, 9 genera and about 25 species have been described (5 per year). Domínguez calculated, that at least 100 new species are waiting for description. Taxonomy is one of the main fields of research in Morelia and the discussion about what is a species is one of the oldest in science. Domínguez and his collaborators prefer the Phylogenetic concept (others are the Biological concept, the Evolutionary concept, the Ecological concept or the Cohesive concept; all of them may be correct depending on the species and the interest of the scientist.). The way to a reproductive isolation is: A physical barrier like mountains come to exist. Thereafter slowly genetic differences accumulate, and when the to populations may come together again, the reproductive isolation has occured. On the other hand, Domínguez showed in the case of Astayanax, a Characid genus, an evolutionary convergence situation, where morphological adaptation to a predatory life or a life in caves inveigled scientists to describe different genera. Domínguez revealed, that these forms are positioned in the middle of the genus Astyanax
New results suggest to see the Skiffia sp. from Sayula to be more related to Skiffia francesae than to Skiffia multipunctata, not only from phylogenetical studies, but also from taking in consideration the other species of the valley, all related to forms from the Teuchitlán area. (Ameca splendens, Goodea atripinnis and Zoogoneticus purhepechus). Other researches had in focus the Xenotoca variata-complexe, the "Xenotoca" melanosoma-complexe, the "Xenotoca" eiseni-complexe and the genus Characodon. Projects in the future have been held out in prospect: The reintroduction of Zoogoneticus tequila, the discovery of lost species or populations and the building of new pond facilities.