Resolving the taxonomic enigma of the iconic game fish, the hump-backed mahseer from the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot, India

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Abstract

Growing to lengths and weights exceeding 1.5 m and 45 kg, the hump-backed mahseer fish of the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot, India, is an iconic, mega-faunal species that is globally recognized as a premier freshwater game fish. Despite reports of their high extinction risk, conservation approaches are currently constrained by their lack of valid taxonomic identity. Using an integrative approach, incorporating morphology, molecular analysis and historical photographs, this fish can now be revealed to be conspecific with Tor remadevii, a species lacking a common name, that was initially, but poorly, described in 2007 from the River Pambar, a tributary of the River Cauvery in Kerala. Currently known to be endemic and restricted to the River Cauvery basin in the Western Ghats, T. remadevii is distinguished from congeners by its prominent hump originating above the pre-opercle and extending to the origin of the dorsal fin, a well-developed mandible resulting in a terminal or slightly superior mouth position, and the dorsal orientation of the eyes. While body colouration varies (silver, bronze, greenish) and is not considered a reliable diagnostic character, orange coloration of the caudal fin (sometimes extending to all fins) is considered a consistent characteristic. Having been first brought to the attention of the scientific community in 1849, and the recreational angling (game fishing) community in 1873, it has taken over 150 years to finally provide this iconic fish with a valid scientific name. This taxonomic clarity should now assist development and delivery of urgent conservation actions commensurate with their extinction risk.

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Pinder, A. C., Manimekalan, A., Marcus Knight, J. D., Krishnankutty, P., Robert Britton, J., Philip, S., … Raghavan, R. (2018). Resolving the taxonomic enigma of the iconic game fish, the hump-backed mahseer from the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot, India. PLoS ONE, 13(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0199328

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