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Marine fish diversity: history of knowledge and discovery (Pisces)
Eschmeyer, W.N.; Fricke, R.; Fong, J.D. (2010). Marine fish diversity: history of knowledge and discovery (Pisces). Zootaxa 2525(2525): 19-50
In: Zootaxa. Magnolia Press: Auckland. ISSN 1175-5326, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Author keywords
    Marine fishes (all); history of discovery; taxonomy; valid taxa;statistics of discovery; biogeography; families; genera; species

Authors  Top 
  • Eschmeyer, W.N.
  • Fricke, R.
  • Fong, J.D.

    The increase in knowledge of marine fish biodiversity over the last 250 years is assessed. The Catalog of Fishes database ( on which this study is based, has been maintained for 25 years and includes information on more than 50,000 available species names of fishes, with more than 31,000 of them currently regarded as valid species. New marine species are being described at a rate of about 100-150 per year, with freshwater numbers slightly higher. In addition, over 10,000 generic names are available ones of which 3,118 are deemed valid for marine fishes (as of Feb. 19, 2010). This report concentrates on fishes with at least some stage of their life cycle in the sea. The number of valid marine species, about 16,764 (Feb. 19, 2010), is about equal to that of freshwater fishes (15,170). Valid species of fishes apparently restricted to brackish water number only 108. The sum (32,042) is more than the current total number of 31,362, valid species of fishes because some species occur in more than one habitat. Presented is information on the description of species and genera over historic time, the authors describing taxa, and the deemed validity of described species and genera. We characterize families and also geographic areas where marine fishes are relatively well known and those where much discovery appears to remain. Endemism is also discussed. As examples, the marine fish faunas of the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and the Mascarene Islands are shown to be well known. Little new discovery has been found recently at the family level, and new discoveries of species and genera are mostly limited to certain families and geographic areas and habitats. Specialized collecting techniques are discussed. Overall success rates for valid species discovery through time has only been about 50%, or two species described for each valid one recognized; however this percentage has been improving over time. Because of recent improvements in technology, literature availability, quality of analysis, better communication, and other factors, the current success rate for validity of species is well over 90% (with a small lag time as status is confirmed or rejected by the ichthyological community). Two habitats where most new marine taxa will likely be found are deep-reefs and deep-slopes, areas poorly sampled and studied. Some deep-sea areas, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere and throughout the Indian Ocean and in Indonesia, should reveal many new taxa from increased collecting efforts. Molecular genetic studies are proving valuable in phylogenetic and phylogeographic analyses as well as in species' population analyses, but these relatively new techniques are not uncovering large numbers of new or cryptic taxa. An estimate of marine fish species yet to be sampled and described is about 5,000, or twice the number described in the last 19 years, for a projected total of approximately 21,800 valid marine species of fishes.

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