Regionally, our results suggest that it is important to elucidate the geographic ranges of species for the effective conservation of the Southeast Asian freshwater fish fauna. Successive losses of local populations across Southeast Asia will engender the regional extinction of freshwater fish. For the many freshwater fish species that are restricted to only Southeast Asia (e.g. the c. 70 cyprinid genera not found anywhere else; ), regional extinction is equivalent to global extinction. By determining species ranges, conservation managers will be able to identify species which are restricted to one or a few drainages in Southeast Asia and are therefore more likely to become globally extinct as habitat loss proceeds. However, as many drainages in Southeast Asia have not been sufficiently sampled and the exact distribution of freshwater fish species remains unknown (), a major priority is to conduct extensive surveys of drainages so as to elucidate spatial patterns of species richness and endemism. Before the completion of an extensive assessment of species ranges, we suggest that surveys proceed concurrently with conservation efforts in peat swamp forests because they are known to harbour a substantial number of freshwater fish species that are restricted to only a few specific drainages in Southeast Asia () and are threatened owing to a high rate of habitat loss ().
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We compiled a checklist of freshwater fish species that were recorded as native to Singapore from published monographs and papers (; ; ). As the status of many species were suspect owing to misidentification of specimens and inaccurate collection sources (), we verified our checklist with a recent revision that clarified suspect records (). Species that were doubtfully native to Singapore owing to a lack of suitable habitat or previous inference from imported specimens were excluded from our checklist. After the filtering exercise, our data set consisted of 46 species (35 extant; 11 extinct) that complete their entire life cycle in freshwater bodies. Species were considered to be extinct if they were not sighted or collected by ichthyologists within the last 45 years. In addition to consulting published reports and monographs on the last date of sighting/collection, we also checked the catalogue of specimens stored in the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research to confirm the collection dates and hence the extinct/extant status of the species in our data set. Compared with the 30 year cut‐off used in a recent study on angiosperm extinctions in Singapore (), a 45‐year time horizon is less likely to erroneously classify extant species as extinct. An examination of the collection dates of extant species revealed that only one species [Channa gachua (Hamilton)] had a collection gap of more than 45 years; it was last collected in 1937 before being rediscovered in 1989. As freshwater habitats have been extensively sampled in Singapore since , we are confident that species not sighted or collected for the last 45 years are indeed extinct.
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In this study, we investigate if species traits may predispose tropical freshwater fish species towards local extinction and assess the relative importance of these traits. Here, local extinction refers to the loss of the entire population of native freshwater fish species (). Specifically, we aim to identify the species traits that correlate with freshwater fish extinctions in Singapore, a tropical island‐nation in Southeast Asia. Singapore’s native freshwater fish assemblage is generally representative of that of Southeast Asia. The 46 species of native freshwater fish fauna of Singapore are dominated by Cyprinidae, the carp family, in common with the freshwater fauna of Southeast Asia (). Moreover, Singapore, being part of the Malay Peninsula zoogeographic region, has a fish community that is drawn from the two major Southeast Asia regions: Sundaland and Indochina (). The only notable bias is the absence of large river species in Singapore but this is unlikely to affect the representativeness of our study as there is no evidence to suggest that these species respond differently to anthropogenic activities. Singapore has lost 95% of its natural vegetation () and its aquatic habitat has been greatly altered by reservoir impoundment and channel concretization. Although Singapore represents an extreme case in terms of habitat alteration and loss, many drainage basins in Southeast Asia may face a similar fate given the current trajectory of rapid development and high rates of habitat loss in the region (). Moreover, those anthropogenic activities (i.e. deforestation, urbanization, impoundments and flow regulation) that have resulted in the loss of the freshwater fish fauna and their habitat in Singapore are the same ones threatening freshwater fish in Southeast Asia (). Thus, the results of our study are likely to be relevant at the regional level and will provide a valuable insight into which traits or trait synergisms may predispose freshwater fishes towards local extinction in tropics and guide authorities in Southeast Asia to prioritize conservation efforts towards extinction‐prone species.
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