Trait-based prediction of extinction risk of small-bodied freshwater fishes

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27 Citations (Scopus)


Small body size is generally correlated with r-selected life-history traits, including early maturation, short-generation times, and rapid growth rates, that result in high population turnover and a reduced risk of extinction. Unlike other classes of vertebrates, however, small freshwater fishes appear to have an equal or greater risk of extinction than large fishes. We explored whether particular traits explain the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List conservation status of small-bodied freshwater fishes from 4 temperate river basins: Murray-Darling, Australia; Danube, Europe; Mississippi-Missouri, North America; and the Rio Grande, North America. Twenty-three ecological and life-history traits were collated for all 171 freshwater fishes of ≤120 mm total length. We used generalized linear mixed-effects models to assess which combination of the 23 traits best explained whether a species was threatened or not threatened. We used the best models to predict the probability of 29 unclassified species being listed as threatened. With and without controlling for phylogeny at the family level, small body size—among small-bodied species—was the most influential trait correlated with threatened species listings. The k-folds cross-validation demonstrated that body size and a random effect structure that included family predicted the threat status with an accuracy of 78% (SE 0.5). We identified 10 species likely to be threatened that are not listed as such on the IUCN Red List. Small body size is not a trait that provides universal resistance to extinction, particularly for vertebrates inhabiting environments affected by extreme habitat loss and fragmentation. We hypothesize that this is because small-bodied species have smaller home ranges, lower dispersal capabilities, and heightened ecological specialization relative to larger vertebrates. Trait data and further model development are needed to predict the IUCN conservation status of the over 11,000 unclassified freshwater fishes, especially those under threat from proposed dam construction in the world's most biodiverse river basins.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)581-591
Number of pages11
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number3
Early online date2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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