Overview

Comprehensive Description

Biology

Usually found in large river systems associated with floodplains or non-perennial tributary streams which flow through flat country (Ref. 13337). It has the ability to use gills and lungs to breathe in and out water; when the floods recede it excavates a burrow in shallow water, deep enough to take its body, and by the time the water has disappeared the lungfish is encased in a thin membranous cocoon made from secreted mucus and mud (Ref. 13337). Aestivation lasts until the habitat is again filled with water; preys mainly on slow-moving bottom-dwelling creatures such as snails, insects and worms, but also takes fish and amphibians; a nest, varrying from a simple excavation to a U-shaped tunnel, is constructed for breeding purposes; male guards the nest with eggs and young; may live for many years (Ref. 7248, 52193).
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Distribution

Range Description

This subspecies is known from the Democratic Republic of Congo to northern South Africa.

Central Africa: Protopterus annectens brieni is known from the Luapula-Mweru and Lufira River basins in the upper Congo River basin.

Eastern Africa: It is present in the Lower Shire River, and Monkey Bay in Lake Malawi (Lake Malawi catchment) after introduction to the Mpatsanjoka dambo (Salima).

Southern Africa: It is found in coastal rivers of Mozambique from the Incomati River north to the Zambezi. It extends upstream into the middle Zambezi and present in the Zambian Congo. Also occurs in arid regions of the Changane system (northern Limpopo River) in Mozambique and extending up into the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe. Protopterus annectens brieni has been translocated to additional sites in the Kruger National Park in South Africa (Skelton 1993).
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Africa: Upper Congo River (Luapula River and Upper Lualaba River), Middle and Lower Zambezi basin and all east coast rivers south to the Limpopo River (Ref. 3498, Ref. 13337). Also in Lake Rukwa (Ref. 13337). Has been translocated to additional sites in the Kruger National Park in South Africa (Ref. 52193). Reports from Upper Cubango and Okavango system (Ref. 11970) need confirmation; not present in this region according to Ref. 52193.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Dorsal spines (total): 0; Analspines: 0
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Size

Maximum size: 900 mm ---
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Max. size

90.0 cm TL (male/unsexed; (Ref. 13337)); max. published weight: 4,000 g (Ref. 13337)
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Diagnostic Description

Diagnosis: distance snout to origin of dorsal fin 2-2.4 times head length, or 54-62% distance snout to vent (Ref. 52193).Description: elongated, sub-cylindrical body tapering to a point formed the confluent dorsal and anal fins; filamentous pectoral and pelvic fins (Ref. 13337). Dorsal and anal fins with soft rays only (Ref. 52193). Head robust, body snake-like; mouth large with sharp teeth; soft, cycloid scales; nostrils open under the upper lip, hidden when mouth is closed; gill chamber openings short, restricted to sides in front of pectoral bases; small external gills present above each gill opening; anus behind pelvic base, offset on side of body (Ref. 7248, 52193). 40-50 scales in a longitudinal series between gill opening and vent, 36-40 around the body (Ref. 13337). Coloration: dark olive-brown on the dorsal surface, the color paling in intensity onto the ventral surface; body covered with irregularly shaped spots (Ref. 13337), usually X-, Y- or V-shaped (Ref. 40587). Lateral line canals form wavy lines over head (Ref. 52193).
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Ecology

Habitat

Zambezi River Demersal Habitat

This taxon is one of a number of demersal species in the Zambezi River system of southern Africa. Demersal river fish are found at the river bottom, feeding on benthos and zooplankton

Nutrient levels in the Zambezi River are relatively low, especially in the upper Zambezi; in that reach, above Victoria Falls, most of the catchment drains Kalahari sands, whose nutrient levels are inherently low due to their aeolian formation; moreover, agricultural fertilizer addition throughout the Zambezi watershed is low, due to the shortage of capital available to farmers of this region.

Nitrate levels (as nitrogen) in the upper Zambezi are typically in the range of .01 to .03 milligrams per liter. Correspondingly electrical conductivity of the upper Zambezi is on the order of 75 micro-S per centimeter, due to the paucity of ion content. From the Luangwa River downstream nitrate levels elevate to .10 to .18 milligrams per liter, and electrical conductivity rises to a range of two to four times the upper Zambezi levels. Not surprisingly, pH, calcium ion concentration, bicarbonate and electrical conductivity are all higher in portions of the catchment where limestone soils predominate compared to granite.

There are a total of 190 fish species present in the Zambezi River, including eel and shark taxa. The largest native demersal species present are the 117 centimeter (cm) long tiger fish (Hydrocynus vittatus), the 175 cm African mottled eel (Anguilla bengalensis labiata), the 120 cm Indonesian shortfin eel (Anguilla bicolor bicolor), the 200 cm Giant mottled eel (Anguilla marmorata), the 150 cm African longfin eel (Anguilla mossambica), the 183 cm Sampa (Heterobranchus longifilis), the 150 cm Cornish jack (Mormyrops anguilloides) and the 700 cm largetooth sawfish (Pristis microdon).

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Protopterus annectens brieni is a demersal, air breathing fish. It is usually found in large river systems associated with floodplains or non-perennial tributary streams which flow through flat country (Bell-Cross and Minshull 1988). It has the ability to use gills and lungs to breath in and out of water; when the floods recede it excavates a burrow in shallow water, deep enough to take its body, and by the time the water has disappeared the lungfish is encased in a thin membranous cocoon made from secreted mucus and mud (Bell-Cross and Minshull 1988). The aestivation lasts until the habitat is again filled with water (Skelton 1993). Protopterus annectens brieni preys mainly on slow-moving bottom-dwelling creatures such as snails, insects and worms, but also takes fish and amphibians (Skelton 1993). An U-shaped burrow is excavated to a depth of nearly 60 cm for spawning purposes. The nest is usually placed amongst the roots of aquatic vegetation where the male will attend to several females during the breeding season. He will aerate the eggs with body and fin movements and afford protection to the young for a while after incubation (Bell-Cross and Minshull 1988).

Systems
  • Freshwater
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Environment

demersal; freshwater
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Trophic Strategy

Usually found in large river systems associated with floodplains or non-perennial tributary streams which flow through flat country (Ref. 13337). It has the ability to use gills and lungs to breathe in and out water; when the floods recede it excavates a burrow in shallow water, deep enough to take its body, and by the time the water has disappeared the lungfish is encased in a thin membranous cocoon made from secreted mucus and mud (Ref. 13337). Aestivation lasts until the habitat is again filled with water (Ref. 7248). Preys mainly on slow-moving bottom-dwelling creatures such as snails, insects and worms, but also takes fish and amphibians (Ref. 7248).
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Life History and Behavior

Life Cycle

An U-shaped burrow is excavated to a depth of nearly 60 cm for spawning purposes. The nest is usually placed amongst the roots of aquatic vegetation where the male will attend to several females during the breeding season. He will aerate the eggs with body and fin movements and afford protection to the young for a while after incubation (Ref. 13337).
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2010

Assessor/s
Bills, R., Kazembe, J., Marshall, B., Moelants, T. & Vreven, E.

Reviewer/s
Snoeks, J., Tweddle, D., Getahun, A., Lalèyè, P., Paugy, D., Zaiss, R., Fishar, M.R.A & Brooks, E.

Contributor/s

Justification
This subspecies has a wide distribution, with no known major widespread threats. It is therefore listed as Least Concern. It has also been assessed regionally as Least Concern for central and southern Africa. It has a limited distribution within the east Africa region where it only occurs in Malawi in the Lower Shire (other sub-populations are introduced). The Lower Shire is considered as one location. It is therefore assessed as Vulnerable.
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Population

Population
Limited information available but it is reported to be uncommon throughout its range (Bell-Cross and Minshull 1988).

Population Trend
Unknown
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Threats

Major Threats
Overfishing in Luapula with drawnets could pose a threat to the subspecies. Subsistence fisheries make the subspecies particularly vulnerable in Zimbabwe (Bell-Cross and Minshull 1988). Dams in the main Zambezi River have reduced the size of the Zambezi delta and the influx of nutrients into the lower river. Further damming of the river will exacerbate this threat reducing floodplain habitats. Lower floodplain habitats have been extensively farmed for sugar cane in the Marromeu region which have introduced a suite of threats from loss of habitats to increased human populations and thus increased direct exploitation. Its geographical range remains large despite localised threats.
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Least Concern (LC)
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Since 2007 it has been prohibited to fish in Lake Mweru and the Luapula River on the Congolese site of the border. In Zambia, there is the Kasanka National Park around Lake Bangweulu. The fines didn’t work in this region. Even scientific collections were stopped. The government has burned 10,000 nets after measuring the nets. The governor (Morris Katunge) has paid the fishermen. Since 1st of May 2008, fishing was allowed again, but with controlled mesh sizes. In the Lufira River basin, the subspecies is protected by the National Park of Upemba. It is also protected within National Parks of Zimbabwe (Bell-Cross and Minshull 1988). More research is needed into this subspecies' population numbers and range, habitat status and threats, as well as monitoring and potential conservation measures.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Importance

fisheries: subsistence fisheries
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