Conservation Biology

Native fishes in contemporary bodies of water suffer extreme pressures, coming from introduced species and anthropogenic overuse of resources. Important steps in biological conservation are the recognition of unique forms, determination of their population trends, identification of risk factors and establishment of recovery strategies, well-informed by species biology and genetics. These can be achieved through traditional assessment of community composition, species distribution and abundance, and genetic diversity — all of which we have and are doing. They can also be done using newer ways of sampling. In particular, we are currently employing eDNA (environmental DNA) approaches to assess not only species presence (using a more conventional DNA metabarcoding approach) but also finer molecular metrics that will hopefully inform us about population-level genetic diversity (using a truly metagenomics approach).

In collaboration with some of our long-time collaborators in Portugal, Norway and Brazil who are partners in the project ENVMETAGENOMICS (funded by the FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, PT), we are combining whole genome sequencing, eDNA metabarcoding and eDNA metagenomics, to characterize (fish) communities in the lower Tagus River (Portugal), which is home to some 50 fish species. Applicability of eDNA metagenomics for characterizing whole communities as well as estimating population-level genetic parameters will be assessed by comparing its results against those produced by eDNA metabarcoding and population genomics metrics estimated via traditional genetic screening of individual samples. This is particularly important in the case of rare species – both endangered of extinction and recent undocumented introductions – as they tend to go undetected by traditional sampling methods.

During our research we have spotted several species not previously known to Iberian inland waters, including one native species in 2007 and several introduced species in 2002, 2008 and 2009. We have formally described a species new to science, which is in extreme risk of extinction.


Close inspection of an Iberochondrostoma olisiponense. This species is under great threat of extinction and listed in the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered.


This has motivated us and colleagues to learn more about it and establish an ex-situ stock. We have successfully achieved reproduction of this species in captivity.

This 10 sec video shows the heart of an Iberochondrostoma olisiponense larva pumping blood.

This ex-situ stock is providing insight about the species’ biology and reproduction. We are currently putting more resources into learning more about the species distribution, population sizes and genetic diversity, with kick-off funds from The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. We have made some really unexpected and important discoveries regarding the distribution of this species: contrary to our previous beliefs, this species also inhabits the main stem of the lower Tagus River.

To learn more about this species and our conservation efforts, visit Iberochondrostoma olisiponense – species conservation page.


Last updated: June 20th, 2019

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