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Keywords:

  • conservation;
  • endemic;
  • karst;
  • red list;
  • Sinocyclocheilus;
  • troglobite

Caves and karsts are among the most threatened ecosystems in the world. They are very fragile, balanced habitats with high levels of endemic species that are extremely sensitive to environmental changes. In recent decades, however, threats from rapid economic growth have increased the need for conservation efforts for cave-dwelling communities. In addition, difficulties in accessing and sampling these habitats mean that they remain as one of the least known ecosystems in the world with modern studies of cave fishes only starting in China during the 1980s. Here, the current status of cave fishes in China is reviewed. China is host to the highest number of cave fish species in the world, with 48 troglobite species out of a total of 101 cave fish species. All of these cave fish species (one order and three families) and half of the genera are endemic to China with Sinocyclocheilus being the most speciose cave fish genus. Species from this genus possess horns and humpbacks resulting from processes of parallel evolution, but the function of these features remains unknown. With the exception of Onychostoma macrolepis distributed in north China, all other species are found in the karst environment of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau. Sympatric distribution is common, and sometimes several different cave fish species can be found in the same cave or subterranean river. For this reason, Chinese cave fishes represent an important evolutionary framework.