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COSAM Professor Discovers New Fish Genus, Species

Published: 11/05/2019

By: Carla Nelson

When Jonathan Armbruster first began his career in the Auburn University Department of Biological Sciences 21 years ago, his first research trip was to Guyana in search of new species of fish. During the trip, with the help of Patamona Amerindians, Armbruster boated up the Essequibo and Potaro Rivers to a waterfall called Kaieteur Falls. He didn’t know at the time, but this trip would mark the beginning of many new discoveries.

As the water rushed by, a local Amerindian helped Armbruster catch the described species Corymbophanes andersoni. After searching more the next day, the researcher found a new species of genus, which was later named Corymbophanes kaiei after the legend of Old Kai that gave Kaieteur Falls its name.

Armbruster, a Biological Sciences professor and Director of the Auburn University Museum of Natural History and curator of Fishes, took a trip to the highlands of Guyana again in 2014. A former student had been brought in on a consulting project in an area where the government planned to build a hydro-electric plant above an area near Amaila Falls, and Armbruster’s team needed to determine if a newly described species would be threatened by construction. During this trip, Armbruster collected another fish that looked similar to Corymbophanes kaiei. After running genetic testing, he found this was a new species as well, and the Guyana government decided that the hydroelectric plant was not worth it.

Amaila Falls was named after an Amerindian woman, Amelia, who was lost there. Throughout the telling of the legend, her name was eventually changed to Amaila, so Armbruster and his team named the new species Corymbophanes ameliae.

“We figured since we named one after Kai in Kaieteur Falls, why not name one after Amelia,” he explained.

On his most recent trip in 2016, after receiving funds to complete a survey of the Ireng River, Armbruster and his team flew in to Orinduik Falls on the Guyana/Brazil border. After a six hour boat ride and on the last day of the trip, the Patamona people showed them some of their traditional ways of fishing. Soon Armbruster’s team discovered a new genus and species of fish.

The new genus and species was named Yaluwak primus, which is the Patamona word for the fish, and the Patamona man that collected it, Primus Peters.

“These places are just a few dots spread around the periphery of the Amazon basin and the reason why some of these discoveries haven’t been made is people haven’t been there,” Armbruster said.

A paper was recently published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society on the findings titled “Phylogeny and biogeography of the Brazilian-Guyana Shield endemic Corymbophanes clade of armoured catfishes (Loricariidae).”

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