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Distribution, zoogeography and biology of the Murchison River hardyhead (Craterocephalus cuneiceps Whitley, 1944), an atherinid endemic to the Indian Ocean (Pilbara) Drainage Division of Western Australia

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Allen MG, Morgan DL, Gill HS. Distribution, zoogeography and biology of the Murchison River hardyhead (Craterocephalus cuneiceps Whitley, 1944), an atherinid endemic to the Indian Ocean (Pilbara) Drainage Division of Western Australia.

Ecology of Freshwater Fish 2005. © Blackwell Munksgaard, 2005 Abstract –

The Murchison River hardyhead (Craterocephalus cuneiceps) is endemic to the extremely arid Indian Ocean (Pilbara) Drainage Division of Western Australia, where it is found in the Greenough, Hutt, Murchison, Wooramel, Gascoyne and DeGrey rivers, but is absent from numerous rivers within its range. The most likely explanation for the disjunct contemporary distribution is that C. cuneiceps has simply never inhabited the rivers from which it is conspicuously absent (e.g. Ashburton and Fortescue). Biogeographical, geological and palaeoclimatic evidence is presented to support this hypothesis. In the Murchison River, breeding was extremely protracted with recruitment occurring throughout the year. The largest female and male specimens captured were 96 mm total length (TL; 7.73 g) and 86 mm TL (5.57 g), respectively. Sex ratio was 1.09 females:1 male. Batch fecundity ranged from 46 to 454 (mean 167.5 ± 25.7 SE). Estimates for the length at which 50 and 95% of females first spawned were 36.4 and 44.3 mm TL, respectively. Craterocephalus cuneiceps is essentially a detritivore, but also feeds on aquatic invertebrates. Rainfall in the Murchison River catchment is unpredictable and pH, salinity and temperature are variable. A specialised diet, small size and young age at maturity and protracted spawning period, coupled with serial spawning and high fecundity, allows the numerical dominance of this species in competitive, harsh, arid and unpredictable desert environments.
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Keywords: Atherinidae; age; diet; distribution; growth; reproduction

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 September 2005

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