Fish migrate underground: the example of Delminichthys adspersus (Cyprinidae)


Anja Palandačić, Fax: +386 1 724 1050; E-mail:


Complex aquatic systems of karst harbour a rich but little-investigated biodiversity. In Croatia and Bosnia–Herzegovina karst, temporal springs are inhabited by a group of minnow-like fishes that retreat to the associated ground water during dry seasons and spend several months underground. The most abundant species in this group is Delminichthys adspersus (Heckel 1843), which also has the most fragmented distribution range. To determine the population composition and dispersal patterns, and to detect potential underground migration, a large genetic data set comprising 544 specimens of D. adspersus covering most of its distribution area was analysed. Analysis of mitochondrial cytochrome b sequences (∼1000 bp) and eight microsatellite loci showed that D. adspersus comprises at least three subpopulations with gene flow occurring among them. Coalescent-based analysis revealed a complex migration pattern, with several unidirectional dispersal paths, including between temporal springs that share no surface connection. The results of this study suggest the existence of recurrent underground migration of fish in a karst environment and demonstrate the complexity of its hydrological network. The findings are relevant to conservation strategies for endemic karst organisms and karst ecosystems as a whole.