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The inland water fishes of Africa

Didier Paugy
Christian Levêque
Olga Otero

African fossil fish

Olga Otero, Alison Murray, Lionel Cavin, Gaël Clément, Aurélie Pinton et Kathlyn Stewart


This chapter illustrates how palaeontology helps to retrace the evolution of African fish, and what can be learned about their palaeobiogeography, adaptation and ancient environment. The first part (1. Africa and fish through geological time) is a presentation of the fish fossil record within the environmental contexts that prevailed in continental Africa through geological time, followed by a focus on the fossils themselves. Using the case study of African characiform fossils, the second part (2. Which fossils? Case study of the African characiforms) illustrates the various kinds of fossils and fossil remains that can be recovered and explains what information fossils can give us. The third section (3. Old groups, old cradles!) focuses on biogeographical information, using the example of one emblematic archaic fish: the lungfish. The fourth part (4. When a marine fish adapts to freshwater) tracks the invasion and extinction of stingrays in the Turkana basin and discusses the still-debated origin of the Nile perch in Africa, to demonstrate the links between fossil fish and their environment, thus giving us information on long-term environmental change. The last section (5. Neogene changes in the African ichthyofauna) is a conclusion concerning the impact of the most recent long-term environmental changes which deeply modified Africa fish faunas, notably the uplift in Eastern Africa and the Saharan aridification.

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Africa and fish through geological time

The history of life on Earth started about 3.8 billion years ago. The metazoans (multicellular animals) appeared 545 million years ago, initiating the Phanerozoic eon which literally means the times of visible animals (figure 3.1). Metazoans diversified first in marine waters and then in both marine and continental environments, following the colonization of fresh waters and land by plants. Among these metazoans, vertebrates occupied various available habitats. Their evolutionary history is shaped by the geological and climatic context prevailing on the continent, and on the processes of diversification and extinction.

Here, we present the main issues of the geological and environmental background in which the evolutionary history of fish took place in Africa throughout time (figures 3.2, 3.4, 3.5). The tectonic history reviews the periods of connection and isolation of the continent as well as the latitudinal position of the African plate. Comb...


A professorial lecturer at the University of Poitiers (Institute of Paleoprimatology, Human Paleontology: Evolution and Paleoenvironments). She studies the evolution and diversification of African fishes to reconstruct the relationships between their spread, diversification, and the paleoenvironment.

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