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Why Cypriniformes?

That is easy to answer! Enhancing our knowledge of this one group of fishes can rapidly transform many areas of science as we know them today to much more mature disciplines. Why and how is this possible? It’s all about diversity and how much we know about it, as well as the model organism species Danio rerio, the Zebrafish, also a Cypriniformes!

Thousands of species of freshwater fishes remain to be described, most of them in the tropics (Lundberg, et al. 2000). About 72% of all freshwater fish species (9,660) belong to a single teleost clade, the Otophysi. Otophysi includes four orders, Siluriformes (catfishes) with 3,500 species, Cypriniformes (minnows, loaches and suckers) with 4,000 species, Characiformes (characins) with 2,000 species, and Gymnotiformes (knifefishes) with 160 species.

Cypriniformes fishes were chosen for this PBI to continue to accelerate the inventory and description of the otophysans, the most diverse, wide-ranging and economically valuable clade of freshwater fishes of the world. Otophysans are the dominant fishes in all temperate and tropical continental waters except in Australia, and are the most important species of inland food fishes throughout Africa and Asia. Precise species-level documentation of the majority of freshwater fishes will establish the taxonomic basis for the informed conservation of fresh waters, the most threatened ecosystems on earth (Stiassny 1999, Stein et al. 2000, Magurran 2009), and for the management of individual resource species. Knowledge of species-level diversity of otophysans provides an unprecedented large-clade foundation for understanding evolutionary and ecological patterns and processes in freshwater ecosystems, especially when combined with the phylogenetic resolution from CToL and this PBI.

Given the large numbers of specimens in museums yet to be examined by experts, and the huge tropical regions yet to be sampled adequately, it is certain that many species have yet to be discovered and described. In a four-year PBI on Cypriniformes we expect to discover and describe – and otherwise initiate studies that will result in the description - of 800 to1,000 new species.

Cypriniformes includes species that are likely the most commonly known and encountered species around the world. They are in nearly every freshwater ecosystem and are usually most abundant. Across the known diversity of about 4,000 species there exists an astounding diversity in behaviors, anatomies, ecologies, distributions, and many aspects of their physiologies and molecular biology. Carps, koi, goldfish, danios, sharks, minnows, chubs, shiners, suckers, algae eaters, and loaches represent only a few common names of different large groups of Cypriniformes that are known to most households as pets (and by other names) or research laboratories where their ecology, evolution, biogeography, physiology, behavior, development, or neurobiology is being studied.

Insight into and comprehension of how these fishes evolved this diversity over continents, river and lake systems, and local and regional areas over the historic past that often no longer exist are elementary questions that scientists continue to investigate for many, many different groups of organisms in search of generalized processes and patterns underlying the evolution of life on Earth. Progress in these areas has been slow, primarily because of a lack of knowledge of the genealogical histories of the species, information on their biology, and more refined information regarding their developmental and molecular biology. This essential “Evolutionary Triad” exists for the Cypriniformes and is only becoming more complete for use by various communities to investigate comparative and non-comparative biological and evolutionary questions, hypotheses, and theories. While many groups of organisms may have diversity and some information on genealogical relationships, these groups are unquestionably trumped by the Cypriniformes because of all the existing and developing knowledge of all aspects of the Zebrafish, Danio rerio. As a model organism species research on the Zebrafish receives an overwhelming greater amount of research funding and attention from the scientific community about its every aspect of being. Why? Because knowledge gained from this easily manipulated and maintained species with a short generation time can and does serve as an important surrogate research species for human biology, disease, mutations, health, etc. Knowledge gained through the various visible aspects of this species and known underlying genetic changes tied to these features can and do serve as important predictors for human-related issues.

The Evolutionary Triad necessary for unearthing and understanding so much of what we seek in biology is much more easily obtained through focused efforts by a world-wide community working not only on Zebrafish as a laboratory model organism but the natural diversity of Cypriniformes species as well. Combining and synthesizing the genetic and non-genetic information resulting from this dichotomy of research emphasis will lead to a phenomenal transformation of knowledge in comparative evolutionary biology in the very near future.

In summary, cypriniformes are chosen for a global inventory because they are an exceptionally diverse monophyletic group, are evolutionarily, ecologically, and economically of interest to cultures around the world, including an enthusiastic group of taxonomists making a 4-year global inventory practical.

Please feel free to join the many researchers and hobbyists working with Cypriniformes fishes from around the world to help us accelerate both knowledge acquisition and synthesis of these fishes. Through the Cypriniformes Commons and several linked and inherent components of CC you will find opportunities to contribute – whether it be descriptive or biological information of a species to species profiles, diversity and taxonomic information to Taxon Tracker, sharing specimens for study, or contributing or collaborating on field or laboratory studies – you are most welcome to join.


Lundberg, J.G., M. Kottelat, G.R. Smith, M. Stiassny, and T. Gill. 2000. So many fishes,so little time: An overview of recent ichthyological discoveries in fresh waters. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Gardens 87: 26-62.

Stiassny, M. L. J. 1999. The medium is the message: Freshwater biodiversity in peril, pp. 53-71. In J. Cracraft and F. Griffo (eds.), The Living Planet in Crisis: Biodiversity Science and Policy. Columbia Univ. Press, New York.

Stein, B. A., L. S. Kutner, and J. S. Adams (eds.). 2000. Precious heritage: the status of biodiversity in the United States. Oxford Univ. Press, New York.

Magurran, A. E. 2009. Threats to Freshwater Fish. Science 325:1215-1216.


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© 2010 ACSI & CToL

This is the primary page opening to two very large research initiatives on Cypriniformes fishes: the All Cypriniformes Species Inventory (ACSI-2), funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation DEB-1022720 (Dr. Lawrence M. Page, University of Florida), DEB-1023403 (Dr. Jonathan Armbruster, Auburn University), and DEB-1021840 (Dr. Richard L. Mayden, Saint Louis University )and The Cypriniformes Tree of Life (CToL), funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation EF-0431326 (Drs. R. L. Mayden, R. M. Wood, and N. Aspinwall). You can learn more about both of these international-scale studies using the links available on this site.