Fiji Fish Project Summary

In this project we are undertaking an intensive three-year sampling program of the fishes in Fiji and combining the data from this effort with information from previous collecting efforts to establish an authenticated, comprehensive list of the species present. Currently information about the numbers and kinds of fish species inhabiting the Fiji Islands is grossly underestimated.

The coral-reef fish fauna of the Indo-Pacific Region is the richest in the world, with estimates as high as 6,000 species for the entire area (Pyle, 1995). The largest province within the Indo-Pacific, the vast region referred to as "Oceania," has an estimated 3,392 fish species, and although Randall (1998a) provided the number of shore species for many of the island groups in Oceania, he was unable to determine the number of shore fishes for Fiji. The only published list for Fiji estimates the number of species as 545, far short of the 915 recorded for Samoa and the 1,610 recorded for New Caledonia.

Although a number of collections have been made in Fiji, a review of museum holdings demonstrates that most collecting sites have been made in the vicinity of Suva, with most of the many islands and reefs unsampled. Even in well-collected areas in Oceania, the number of shore fishes is far from definitive. Indeed, although some areas are better sampled than others, there is not one locality in the high diversity centers of the southwestern Pacific Ocean that has been sampled thoroughly enough to provide accurate information about the total fish diversity present, information on their habitat specificity, or assemblage structure within specific habitats. An in-depth survey of Fiji, a centrally located high diversity area within the southwestern Pacific Ocean, will provide a greater understanding of the fish diversity within this important area. We estimate that at least 13% of the fishes inhabiting depths of 30 meters or less and as many 60-80% of those at depths of 50-100 meters are undescribed. It is anticipated that the total number of species in this area ultimately will be found to approximate that for New Caledonia.

Our collecting will concentrate on reef and shore fishes, including such non-reef habitats as mangroves, seagrass beds, mud flats, rocky and sandy shores, but we will also work with the Fijian Department of Fisheries to obtain records of more offshore species such as the sharks, tunas, and billfishes. In addition to collections using SCUBA at depths of 30 meters or less, we will conduct a pilot sampling of fishes to a depth of 120 meters using closed circuit rebreather technology. Students at both the University of the South Pacific and the University of Hawaii will be involved in this project.

This project includes the development of the interactive, searchable database system you are now viewing on the World Wide Web. This database will include a range of information, including basic taxonomic data for each taxon (authorship, type specimen, synonyms), major references for identification, diagnostic characters, distribution, photographs, and listings of major museum holdings of specimens from Fiji.

The fish museum at the University of the South Pacific will be expanded to contain representatives of all Fijian fish species with the remainder of the specimens being deposited at the California Academy of Sciences. Crustaceans collected along with fishes also will be deposited at these two museums. The fish specimens collected will be important for future systematic studies and also can be used to answer biogeographic as well as ecological questions. As fishes will be collected within specific habitats using a standard technique, information on habitat specificity and assemblage structure can be obtained. Because Fiji is not on the Pacific Plate, but is adjacent to island groups that are, comparisons of species lists with plate boundaries can be made.

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