Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Very little is known about the natural ecology of this species. It is likely that the developing young are carried in some form of brood pouch, following external fertilisation (2). In other members of the genus, the eggs are almost completely enveloped by the folds of the brood pouch, which meet or nearly meet in the middle, and it is likely that this is also the case for this species (7). Pipefish lack teeth and feed by sucking small fish fry and invertebrates into their mouths (2).
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Description

This slender, cylindrical fish was believed to be extinct in the early 1990s until a miraculous rediscovery in 1995 (6), but the population remains teetering on the very brink of extinction. The long, cylindrical body is a characteristic pipefish shape (5). It is a greenish brown colour and there are dark lines visible on the head and paler lines along the body (2).
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Comprehensive Description

Biology

Occurs in rivers with tidal influence. Found in association with submerged aquatic macrophytes, primarily the eelgrass Zostera capensis (Ref. 26174). Sympatric with Syngnathus acus in the eelgrass beds (Ref. 26174). Ovoviviparous (Ref. 205). The male carries the eggs in a brood pouch which is found under the tail (Ref. 205).
  • Dawson, C.E. 1986 Syngnathidae. p. 445-458. In M.M. Smith and P.C. Heemstra (eds.) Smiths' sea fishes. Springer-Verlag, Berlin. (Ref. 4281)
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Distribution

Range Description

S. watermeyeri is known only from the Bushmans, Kariega, and Kasouga estuaries on the Eastern Cape coast of South Africa (Whitfield 1995, Cowley 1998, Vorwerk et al. 2007).

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South Africa.
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Africa: Known only from areas of tidal influence within the Kariega, Kasouga and Bushmans Rivers, South Africa.
  • Dawson, C.E. 1986 Syngnathidae. p. 281-287. In J. Daget, J.-P. Gosse and D.F.E. Thys van den Audenaerde (eds.) Check-list of the freshwater fishes of Africa (CLOFFA). ISNB, Brussels; MRAC, Tervuren; and ORSTOM, Paris. Vol. 2. (Ref. 4127)
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Range

Previously found within the Bushmans, Kariega and Kasuka River estuaries in eastern South Africa (4), this species was declared extinct in 1994 (3). An additional population was discovered the following year however, in the East Kleinemonde Estuary, on the Sunshine Coast of South Africa (6).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Dorsal spines (total): 0; Dorsal soft rays (total): 28 - 32; Analspines: 0; Analsoft rays: 3
  • Dawson, C.E. 1986 Syngnathidae. p. 445-458. In M.M. Smith and P.C. Heemstra (eds.) Smiths' sea fishes. Springer-Verlag, Berlin. (Ref. 4281)
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Size

Maximum size: 130 mm TL
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Max. size

13.0 cm TL (male/unsexed; (Ref. 4281))
  • Dawson, C.E. 1986 Syngnathidae. p. 445-458. In M.M. Smith and P.C. Heemstra (eds.) Smiths' sea fishes. Springer-Verlag, Berlin. (Ref. 4281)
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Diagnostic Description

Greenish brown with close-set dark lines on head and pale lines on body (Ref. 4281).
  • Dawson, C.E. 1986 Syngnathidae. p. 445-458. In M.M. Smith and P.C. Heemstra (eds.) Smiths' sea fishes. Springer-Verlag, Berlin. (Ref. 4281)
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Reproduction
The male carries the eggs in a brood pouch which is found under the tail (Breder and Rosen 1966). Sexual maturity is attained at approximately 10 cm standard length with males retaining up to 44 embryos. Reproductively active specimens were collected in the Kariega estuary during late September (Whitfield 1995). The life cycle is completed within the estuary.

Habitat

S. watermeyeri occurs in brackish, tidal areas of rivers and is found primarily in association with the eelgrass Zostera capensis and Ruppia cirrhosa, where it feeds almost exclusively on zooplankton (Whitfield 1995).

Systems
  • Freshwater
  • Marine
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Environment

demersal; brackish
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Depth range based on 1 specimen in 1 taxon.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 1 - 1
 
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The river pipefish is a bottom-dwelling fish that inhabits brackish waters (2), and is strongly associated with Ruppia cirrhosa beds (a submerged plant) in the upper and middle reaches of the river (6).
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Life History and Behavior

Life Cycle

Male carries the eggs in a brood pouch (Ref. 205).
  • Whitfield, A.K. 1995 Threatened fishes of the world: Syngnathus watermeyeri Smith, 1963 (Syngnathidae). Environ. Biol. Fish. 43(2):152. (Ref. 26174)
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
CR
Critically Endangered

Red List Criteria
B1ab(i,ii,iii); C2a(i)

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
1996

Assessor/s
Sorensen, M. & Bills, R.

Reviewer/s
Curtis, J. & O’Donnell, K.

Contributor/s

Justification

S. watermeyeri has been listed as Critically Endangered due to its restricted extent of occurrence, continued decline in habitat quality, and the absence of mature individuals in the latest intensive surveys.

Until a programme is in place that regulates fresh water pulses into South African estuaries, which are needed to maintain the S. watermeyeri food supply, it will remain Critically Endangered.


History
  • 1996
    Critically Endangered
    (Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
  • 1996
    Critically Endangered
  • 1996
    Critically Endangered
  • 1994
    Extinct
    (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN 1990)
  • 1988
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
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Status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR - B1+2abd) on the IUCN Red List 2002 (1)
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Population

Population

Syngnathus watermeyeri has been recorded in small numbers and its presence/absence in surveys has fluctuated dramatically since these surveys began. Initial surveys in 1963 found 10 River Pipefish in the Bushmans estuary, 11 in the Kariega estuary and two in the Kasouga estuary (Whitfield 1995). Between 1989 and 1992, intensive surveys were conducted in all three estuaries with no specimens recorded. As a result, S. watermeyeri was listed as officially Extinct in the 1994 IUCN Red List but in 1996 a new breeding population was discovered in the East Kleinemonde estuary (Cowley 1998). This new population, however, was declared locally extinct in 2003 when a large flood was thought to have washed their preferred eelgrass habitat out to sea, no specimens have since been found in the East Kleinemonde (James et al. 2008).

The most recent surveys occurred in 2006 and found juvenile S. watermeyeri once again in its historic range (Bushmans, Kariega and Kasouga estuaries) where it had not been reported for over four decades (Whitfield and Bruton 1996). These intensive surveys found a total of 20 juvenile specimens in the Kariega estuary, ranging from 0.05 to 0.2 individuals per square metre (Vorwerk et al. 2007). No mature individuals were found. Peaks in abundance were found in areas where mesohaline conditions prevailed and the percentage vegetation cover exceeded 80% (Vorwerk et al. 2007).


Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats

Syngnathus watermeyeri relies on freshwater pulses which provide the nutrients that enable phytoplankton development and, together with particulate organic material brought down by the rivers, support the zooplankton community upon which these pipefish depend for food. The construction of dams and other impoundments have caused a deprivation of fresh water pulses and a subsequent decline in food supply (Whitfield 1995). Dry conditions in the last few years have caused the Kariega river to stop flowing, which will likely result in the absence of S. watermeyeri in this system once again (A.K.Whitfield pers. comm.).

This species may also be particularly susceptible to hypersaline conditions and to large flood events (Vorwerk et al. 2007). A flood event in the East Kleinemonde estuary in 1996 (Cowley 1998) resulted in the apparent localized extinction of S. watermeyeri. This was thought to be the result of primary S. watermeyeri habitat, submerged eelgrass beds, being flushed out to sea (Vorwerk et al. 2007).

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Critically Endangered (CR) (B1ab(i,ii,iii); C2a(i))
  • IUCN 2006 2006 IUCN red list of threatened species. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded July 2006.
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The loss of this species from the majority of its former range has been attributed to altered river systems caused by the construction of upstream dams. These developments restrict the supply of fresh water that brings with it essential nutrients required by the phytoplankton upon which the food chain depends (4). Much excitement greeted the discovery of an additional population of this pipefish in the East Kleinemonde Estuary, but these fish are under increasing threat, and not least because they are the last remaining members of the species (3). Developments along the river have led to silting problems; the creation of artificial beaches and the removal of reed beds have further threatened the delicate estuary ecosystem (3).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions

The South African National Water Act 1998 (Act 36) requires that all rivers should have an Ecological Reserve amount set aside. The Ecological Reserve relates to "the water required to protect the aquatic ecosystems of the water resource", including both rivers and estuaries (Vorwerk et al. 2008a). Ecological reserves have been determined for some systems in South Africa but not for any estuaries inhabited by S. watermeyeri. When dams were built on the Kariega and its tributary rivers, a water release policy was issued for downstream agriculture but the environmental requirements of estuaries and rivers were not included (Vorwerk et al. 2008a).

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Conservation

With the discovery of the remnant population of this species in 1996, the Western District Council adopted a management plan to protect this rare pipefish (3). Measures included a public awareness programme and the discouragement of powerboat riding. Unfortunately, the plan has been poorly enforced and illegal developments, along with an increase in planned developments, have proliferated in the area (3). Unless stricter measures are bought into effect quickly, it is likely that the river pipefish will become extinct once more, this time with no reprieve.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Importance

aquarium: commercial
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Wikipedia

River pipefish

The river pipefish (Syngnathus watermeyeri) is a species of fish in the Syngnathidae family. It is endemic to South Africa: sites with tidal influence within the Kariega, Kasouga, Bushman's Rivers.

This species of pipefish is Critically Endangered due to both natural and human threats to the brackish estuaries and local eelgrass beds in which they live.

Source

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