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The inland water fishes of Africa

Didier Paugy
Christian Levêque
Olga Otero

Diversity of fish habitats

Christian Levêque


Habitat is the place where a species lives and its surrounding biotic and abiotic environment. Ecologists seeking to develop explanatory and forecast models have long wondered about this fundamental question: how can the presence of an individual at a given place and time be explained? Indeed, the different fish species are not distributed at random in aquatic systems, but according to their biological and ecological requirements. The knowledge of factors governing the distribution of species could also improve our understanding of the structure of populations.

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Habitat concept

When considering the many parameters that can characterize habitat, one must keep in mind that a fish, at each stage of its existence, is faced with three fundamental requirements (Lévêque, 1995):

  • to protect itself from the limits set by the environment (current, oxygen, temperature, etc.) as well as predators and any competitors in order to ensure its survival;
  • to feed in the best possible conditions to ensure its growth and maturity, given that nutritional requirements will vary as the fish develops;
  • to reproduce once it reaches the adult state, in the most favourable conditions, in order to ensure survival of the species. The fish may thus need to move (migration) and potentially develop means of protecting its eggs (parental care).

Aquatic systems, particularly lotic ones, are characterized by high spatial and temporal variability because of fluctuations in water flow and level that considerably modify the nature and extent of the volumes that fishes can use. In reali...


Research director at IRD. He has published numerous works on the systematics, distribution, and ecology of West African fresh water fishes, and expanded the collections of the MNHN in Paris.

© IRD Éditions, 2017

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