Conservation of freshwater habitats and fishes in the Western Ghats of India

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Abstract

The Western Ghats, India, present a series of challenges and opportunities for novel approaches to conservation. Running parallel to the coast of the Indian Peninsula, the Ghats represent the western edge of the Deccan Plateau and traverse 1400 km over six states, giving rise to rivers that drain over a third of the country. A global biodiversity hotspot with varied topography housing diverse ecological niches, the Western Ghats present significant challenges to, and opportunities for, conservation. Dense human habitation near river systems and dependence on freshwater resources for livelihoods make it difficult to establish protected areas. Freshwater fishes in this region account for c. 40% of the freshwater fishes in India and around 189 species are endemic to the Western Ghats. All the usual threats to the fishes and their habitats are present, and the freshwater fishes of the Western Ghats are of great social and economic importance to the local community. Zoos, aquariums and the general public can play a role in conservation efforts through education and research. Utilizing traditional customs already in place, such as water bodies in the vicinity of temples where no fishing occurs, in conjunction with ecotourism and more modern technologies, such as live gene banks and cryopreservation, may ease the burden on the freshwater habitats and fishes in the region.

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