Kansas professor discovers new species of catfish

Saturday, January 15th 2005, 12:49 pm
By: News On 6

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) _ Spelling David Edds' discipline _ ichthyology _ is much harder than determining where his interests lie. A quick look through the Emporia State University professors office tells it all.

A book titled ``Fishes of Nepal'' sits bookmarked by his computer. Two mobiles of colorful fish hang from the ceiling. His shirt? A fish pattern.

The book's title is the key development in Edds' career these days. He discovered a new species of catfish in Nepal, and the find was made official when it was published in the December issue of Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters.

The new fish is named batasio macronotus _ ``macros'' means long, and ``notus'' means back. But Edds didn't immediately know that he had found a previously unidentified catfish.

He had surveyed Nepal rivers and collected specimens in a 1984 and a 1996 trip, but the specimens had to be compared to known species, and that's a laborious job. Edds' collection is in the range of 3,000 to 4,000 fish, stored at the University of Kansas and Oklahoma State University.

Heok Hee Ng, a University of Michigan researcher and expert on Asian fishes, borrowed the collection and described batasio macronotus.

``He should get all the credit, because he's the taxonomist,'' the modest professor said. ``He recognized that this is something different. He was generous enough to include me as a co-author.''

The teamwork continues. Another article has already been submitted for review that describes two new species in the Erithistoides genus. Yet another manuscript detailing two more discoveries in the Psuedecheneis genus is underway, and Edds expects even more after that.

The uniqueness in the 4- to 5-inch batasio macronotus is a longer adipose fin, a shorter dorsal spine and a thicker tail region.

Edds' interest in fish started as an undergraduate at the University of Kansas, studying under a professor, Frank Cross, who wrote the book _ ``literally,'' Edds said _ on Kansas fish. He then joined the Peace Corps, which took him to Nepal.

He was struck by a country that has both the tallest mountains in the world and subtropical jungles.

``The ecological differences are really striking, leading to animals that are really striking,'' Edds said. ``No thorough survey of fishes of the county had ever been done.''

In 1984, he went back to Nepal while a graduate student at Oklahoma State University. He began teaching at ESU in 1989, and took a year's sabbatical in 1996 to return to Nepal. That's when most of the specimens were collected.

For the discovery, Edds credited ESU for granting the 1996 sabbatical, and for funding his Nepal trips, the National Geographic Society and a Fulbright grant.

So it was a long wait, from collection to publication. But for Edds, the thrill is there. This sequence of newly described fish ranks at the top of his career goals, having made a contribution to science, ichthyology and Nepal.

``The thrill is there, to discover new things and to describe new things previously unknown for science,'' Edds said. ``I think one of the significant parts of it for me is, this is one of the places of the world where we are losing biodiversity faster than we are describing it.''

Nepal is attempting to harvest its hydroelectric potential, but damming a river destroys it and creates a lake.

``It's important to get in there and try to understand the environment while it's relatively pristine, before it gets degraded,'' Edds said.

Edds and Ng have made recommendations to the Nepalese government about fish conservation, but in a Third World country with its own wealth of turmoil, the environment is a secondary concern.

``Those recommendations have been made,'' Edds said with a smile. ``Nepal has bigger problems than protecting its biodiversity right now. Today, they're involved in a civil war.''

When the war subsides, Edds plans to return. Until then, he's concerned with survey projects in Kansas and teaching classes.