Saramugo - A conservation strategy for Anaecypris Hispanica

LIFE97 NAT/P/004075

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Contact details:

Project Manager: Maria João COLLARES-PERREIRA
Tel: 351 21 7573141
Fax: 351 21 7500028
Email: mcolares@correio.cc.fc.ul.pt

Project description:


Anaecypris hispanica is the most endangered non-migratory fish found in Portuguese territory. It is an Iberian endemic species listed under Annexes II and IV of the Council Directive 92/43/EEC. In Portugal it is restricted to a few suitable biotopes within the Guadiana river basin. In Spain it occurs in very localised sectors of the Guadiana and Guadalquivir rivers. Its abundance and geographic range have been progressively reduced, and evidence of serious depletion was diagnosed ten years before the project started, due to the successive destruction of its habitat (through flow regulation - especially by damming - pollution and eutrophication and water and sand/silt extraction) and because of the introduction of exotic fish species. It is believed that if no action is taken aiming at recovery of the species, its extinction will be inevitable. The Portuguese part of the Guadiana basin will undergo dramatic changes in the next few years. Firstly, the large Alqueva dam will be built; several minor dams will probably also be built in order to supply water for the development of the Algarve region. As a consequence, a number of riparian habitats will be transformed, with implications for the species occupying these habitats. Corrective and conservation measures are urgently required in order to prevent the extinction of species in this river and to preserve representative portions of the natural habitat.


The main purpose of this project was to achieve the conservation of Anaecypris hispanica through the conservation of the habitats where it is still found and through the recovery of some of the habitats where its presence has been described in the recent past. The project would also contribute to the conservation of other endemic fish, some listed under Annex II of the Habitats Directive (Chondrostoma polylepis willkommii, Barbus comiza, Rutilus alburnoides and R. lemmingii) and others in the Portuguese Red Data Book of Vertebrates with designations of 'rare' or 'vulnerable' (Barbus steindachneri, B. microcephalus, and Blennius fluviatilis). The project included the definition of a management and conservation strategy for the species, the selection of areas to be proposed for the national list of SCIs (Sites of Community Interest), and lobbying for the creation of refuge areas. The first difficulty faced was the lack of knowledge about the biology and ecology of A. hispanica and the other species of the Guadiana basin. Therefore, another of the project’s objectives was to provide this knowledge. Other actions included monitoring of both A. hispanica and other fish populations, studying regression factors, genetic variability, preparing an in-vitro breeding system, as well as public awareness raising. Another important expected outcome was the reinforcement of communication and collaboration between different institutions related to the management of river ecosystems. The competent national authorities in this respect are DGF (Direcção Geral das Florestas, Ministry of Agriculture: responsible for inland fisheries) and INAG (Instituto Nacional da Água, Ministry of Environment: responsible for the hydrological plans), and Protected Areas, where ICN (Instituto da Conservação da Natureza) has only restricted competence.


The project succeeded in achieving its general objectives, which focused on the collection of information, proposals for conservation and management measures, promotion of co-operation between competent bodies within the Guadiana basin, and awareness raising. All technical objectives were met through sound scientific work that led to increased knowledge of the target species:

  • The status of Anaecypris hipanica and related fish fauna was established and their populations monitored.
  • The species’ habitat was also monitored in order to understand the factors causing the regression of the species’ distribution range.
  • The effects of population isolation on the genetic variability of the species was described.
  • Breeders were selected and, for the first time anywhere in the world, captive breeding of the species was achieved.
  • Prior to the project, virtually nothing was known about the lifecycle, habitat preferences and genetic structure of Anaecypris hispanica. Gathering all these data, vital to defining a management plan for the species, was possible due to support from the LIFE programme. A strategy for the analysis of fish species conservation was developed on a very large scale, something that had never been done previously in Portugal. This created a whole new approach to Anaecypris conservation, with an emphasis on the identification of different evolutionary and management units. This conservation strategy, which also addressed associated native fish communities, underlined the need for action to conserve the few remaining habitats where the species survives, and to rehabilitate degraded rivers where it was found in the recent past. Actions to restock recovered habitats should only be implemented once existing environmental bottlenecks have been removed, and should be done according to the recommendations presented in the management plan, which is based on both the evolutionary and management units found. Other management results were:
  • The identification and mapping of fifteen new areas to be proposed as Sites of Community Interest (pSCIs), six of which are totally or partially included within existing pSCIs. Most of these areas are of maximum priority, including three in border areas or on Spanish territory.
  • A proposal to revise the list of species in the Habitats Directive taking into account the new information available.
  • The identification of one or more candidate 'zonas de abrigo' (the only protection existing under Portuguese law for fish areas) in the management plan.
  • Regarding networking, the project developed a dynamic of its own and managed to gather several institutions related to the conservation and management of watercourses, both at local and regional levels, and ranging from water management bodies to authorities promoting large dams. Some private stakeholders with local interests, such as angling associations, were also contacted, plus Portuguese and Spanish university teams working on the Guadiana fish communities. Additional initiatives undertaken included official participation of the beneficiary in the delineation of the Hydrological Plan of the Guadiana basin, and the establishment of contacts with different public and private institutions. The project's activities have been instrumental in raising awareness regarding freshwater fish. This was previously at a low or non-existant level in Portugal, and the increased awareness therefore improved the prospects for future actions. One of these was the inclusion of information on Guadiana freshwater habitats and species in school programmes. Also important was the involvement of the project team in further initiatives such as the proposed creation of a "Centre for Reproduction of Threatened Fish Species" (CREPA). The quality of the scientific work undertaken resulted in widespread dissemination through oral communications and posters in five national scientific meetings and in thirteen international ones. As at October, 2001, six papers had been published in well known international scientific journals, and six more had either been submitted or were in preparation. The international attention attracted by the project was evidenced by an invitation to participate in a project on fish-based assessment methods for the ecological integrity of European running waters, co-ordinated by the University of Agricultural Sciences of Vienna (Austria). Future challenges include the provision of binding tools to implement the management plan drawn up within the project, as well as the effective designation of the new areas proposed to the Natura 2000 network. Moreover, the efforts to improve knowledge and conservation strategies for the fish species should be complemented by increased control over some of the main threats to them, such as large scale water resource development schemes. In addition, the measures proposed in the Water Framework Directive, like the first generation of River Basin Management Plans and River Basin Councils, may be less effective if not integrated with other aspects such as multinational co-operation for international rivers like the Guadiana, and active participation of the users through specific awareness actions.


Environmental issues addressed:


Species - Fish


endemic species‚  protected area‚  freshwater ecosystem‚  research project‚  cartography‚  nature conservation

Target EU Legislation

  • Water
  • Directive 2000/60 - Framework for Community action in the field of water policy (23.10.2000)
  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • Directive 92/43 - Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora- Habitats Directiv ...

Target species

 Anaecypris hispanica     

Natura 2000 sites

SPA PTZPE0043 Campo Maior
SPA PTZPE0047 Vale do Guadiana
SCI PTCON0007 S. Mamede
SCI PTCON0036 Guadiana
SCI PTCON0053 Moura / Barrancos
SCI PTCON0057 Caldeirão



Coordinator Universidade de Lisboa - Centro de Biologia Ambiental (CBA)
Type of organisation University
Description CBA is a research and development unit of the Faculty of Science of the University of Lisbon. The project received co-funding from the Instituto da Conservação da Natureza, the Direccção-Geral das Florestas, and the Museu Bocage.
Partners None


Project reference LIFE97 NAT/P/004075
Duration 01-SEP-1997 to 31-DEC -2000
Total budget 556,344.38 €
EU contribution 278,172.19 €
Project location Alentejo(Portugal)


Read more:

Brochure Title: Salvemos os peixes do Guadiana: a comunidade piscícola da Bacia do Guadiana Author: M.J. Collares-Pereira et al. Year: 2000 Editor: Instituto de Conservação da Natureza No of pages: 61
Brochure Title: Saramugo, uma espécie em extinção Author: L. Rogado Year: 1999 Editor: Instituto da Conservação da Natureza No of pages: 11
CD-ROM Title: O saramugo, uma espécie ameaçada de extinção - kit pedagógico
Publication: Article-Paper Title: The Status of Anaecypris hispanica in Portugal: Problems of Conserving a Highly Endangered Iberian Fish Author: Collares-Pereira, M.J. et al. Year: 1999 Editor: Biological Conservation, 88, pp. 207-212
Publication: Article-Paper Title: Threats imposed by Water Resource Development Schemes on the Conservation of Endangered Fish Species in the Guadiana River Basin in Portugal Author: Collares-Pereira, M.J. et al. Year: 2000 Editor: Fisheries Management and Ecology, 7: 167-78
Publication: Book Title: Conservation of Endangered Fish Species in the Face of Water Resource Development Schemes in the Guadiana River, Portugal: Harmony of the Incompatible. In: Management and Ecologyof River Fisheries Author: Cowx, I.G. et al. Year: 2000 Editor: Fishing News Books, Blackwell Science
Publication: Book Title: Conservation of Endangered Fish Species in the Face of Water Resource Development Schemes in the Guadiana River, Portugal: Harmony of the Incompatible. In: Management and Ecology of River Fisheries Author: Cowx, I.G. et al. Year: 2000 Editor: Fishing News Books, Blackwell Science


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version