Vulnerability of Cape Fold Ecoregion freshwater fishes to climate change and other human impacts
Van Der Walt, J.A.
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1. Native freshwater fish populations throughout South Africa's Cape Fold Ecoregion (CFE) are in decline as a result of human impacts on aquatic habitats, including the introduction of nonnative freshwater fishes. Climate change may be further accelerating declines of many species, although this has not yet been studied in the CFE. This situation presents a major conservation challenge that requires assigning management priorities through assessing species in terms of their vulnerability to climate change. 2. One factor hindering reliable vulnerability assessments and the concurrent development of effective conservation strategies is limited knowledge of the biology and population status of many species. This paper reports on a study employing a rapid assessment method used in the USA, designed to capitalize on available expert knowledge to supplement existing empirical data, to determine the relative vulnerabilities of different species to climate change and other human impacts. Eight local freshwater fish experts conducted vulnerability assessments on 20 native and 17 non‐native freshwater fish species present in the CFE. 3. Results show (1) that native species were generally classified as being more vulnerable to extinction than were non‐native species, (2) that the climate change impacts are expected to increase the vulnerability of most native, and some non‐native, species, (3) that vulnerability hotspots requiring urgent conservation attention occur in the Olifants‐Doring, upper Berg and upper Breede River catchments in the south west of the region, (4) that in addition to providing guidance for prioritizing management interventions, this study highlights the need for reliable data on the biology and distribution of many CFE freshwater fishes, and (5) that identification of priority areas for protection should be based on multiple sources of data.