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Keywords:

  • body size;
  • conservation;
  • habitat loss;
  • life-history traits;
  • machine learning;
  • Southeast Asia;
  • tropics

Summary

1. Identifying the ecological and life-history correlates of local extinction may elucidate mechanisms by which species traits and the environment interact to result in extinctions, and will help to predict and target extinction-prone species for inclusion in conservation programmes. Freshwater habitats are known to be highly threatened in Southeast Asia but the correlates of extinction among tropical freshwater fish remains unclear.

2. To bridge this knowledge gap, we examined extinction correlates of the freshwater fish of Singapore using machine learning methods: conditional inference trees and forests. Singapore is an ideal study site as it has experienced a high degree of habitat loss and has a well-studied ichthyofauna compared with other countries in the region.

3. The local range of a species was the only significant predictor of extinctions: range-restricted species were more likely to go extinct.

4. Other traits found to be important predictors of extinction risk in temperate regions or hypothesized to predict extinctions based on theory included regional geographic distribution, vertical position, feeding guild, body size, number of congeners, air-breathing capability and habitat preference. These factors did not appear to drive extinctions of freshwater fish in Singapore, although forest-dependent species are more likely to have a restricted local range.

5.Synthesis and applications. Local extinctions of freshwater fish in Singapore are random with respect to ecological and life-history traits because habitat loss is responsible for the removal of entire populations. The fish fauna of Southeast Asia is so poorly known that intensive field surveys are required to identify hotspots of freshwater fish endemism which may be vulnerable to future extinction. These hotspots should then be incorporated into national conservation plans. Where complete habitat protection is not possible, for example, in existing logging concessions and plantations, local authorities should establish partnerships with management companies to ameliorate impacts on fish fauna. Within Singapore, the Nee Soon Swamp Forest is one such hotspot of fish endemism and must be conserved to protect the last populations of five fish species endemic to this location on the island.