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Southeast Ecological Science Center

History of Ichthyology in Puerto Rico

The first fishers of the region were no doubt the indigenous natives, the Taino Indians. The natives lived along the coast and were intimately familiar with the local marine fauna with the remains of Harengula, Belonidae, Gobiomorus, Haemulon spp. and Balistidae common at indian sites in Puerto Rico (De France, 1988). Over 60 taxa of marine fishes have been found at prehistoric sites throughout the Caribbean  (Wing & Reitz, 1982).   European explorers came on the scene when Columbus reached the southern shore of Virgin Gorda the evening of 16 November 1493.  He did not land at that time as he had just encountered the fierce Carib Indians at Salt River, St. Croix. Instead, he sent light-draught vessels through the islands to explore while the main fleet hove-to offshore. The fleet made its way west along the southern edge of the Plateau anchoring and landing at Boquerón on 22 November, 1493 (Morison, 1942).  While no fish were specifically described from the Plateau, Colombus mentions the hunting of turtles and manatees with the fish hound (Echeneis naucrates?) (Morison, 1942, 131-132) and harpooning giant rays (Morison, 1942, 327).  Oviedo (1526) reviews the earliest fish and fisheries from the region referred to by common names that leave some doubt as to species identifications. It was not until drawings by John White is their adequate information to confirm the identification of species from the region.  White visited Puerto Rico in 1584 and 1585 while on expeditions with Sir Richard Grenville and Sir Frances Drake and produced ten marine fishes color drawings (Hulton, 1984).  While none of the drawings were the basis of present day descriptions they can be directly associated with present day names. Linnaeus (1758), the father of modern systematics, described fishes from Jamaica and the Bahamas based on White's drawings, but none were based on specimens from this area.  The first records of fish from the region in a scientific account are found in the volumes of Cuvier and Valenciennes.

Cuvier and Valenciennes

Cuvier, the father of modern comparative anatomy, received specimens from French island possessions and expeditions from around the world (Bauchot et al., 1990).  Auguste Plée (Pley) was one voyager-naturalist that sailed to the Antilles in 1820 and visited St. Thomas and Puerto Rico sending fish specimens back to France (Pietsch 1995).  In the 22 volumes of "Histoire Naturelle des Poissons" Cuvier and Valenciennes (1828) reported on 48 taxa from the area, 33 from Puerto Rico and 21 from St. Thomas.  Of these 27 were type specimens and nine remain as good species (Table 1).

Poey

Dr. Juan Gundlach of Cuba visited the Puerto Rico in 1873 and 1875-76 where he collected a range of fauna (Gundlach, 1881) (see Evermann and Marsh, 1900 for further details).  The fish collection was studied by the eminent Cuban ichthyologist Felipe Poey (1881).  There were 105 taxa reported of which 95 were new and ten previously reported by Cuvier and Valenncienes.  Two new species, Monosira stahli and Antennarius inops, were described but both have since been synonymized.

Table 1. Type species reported from the Puerto Rican Plateau by Cuvier and Valenciennes.

Present Name

Original Name

Location

Haemulon album

Haemulon album

St. Thomas

Eugerres plumieri

Gerres plumieri

Puerto Rico

Eugerres brasilianus

Gerres brasilianus

Puerto Rico

Megalops atlanticus

Megalops atlanticus

Puerto Rico

Microspathodon chrysurus

Glyphisodon chrysurus

St. Thomas

Mugil liza

Mugil liza

Puerto Rico

Scarus coelestinus

Scarus coelestinus

St. Thomas

Scarus guacamaia

Scarus guacamaia

St. Thomas

Scorpaena grandicornis

Scorpaena grandicornis

Puerto Rico

Stahl

Dr. Augustin Stahl, an active medical doctor in Bayamon, was the first resident of Puerto Rico who made zoological collections and reported on them in the literature.  Stahl (1883) reported on ninety fish taxa with seven new records from Puerto Rico in his collection.

Evermann and Marsh

Following the Spanish-American war Puerto Rico came under the control of the United States.  A fisheries survey was quickly scheduled and the U.S. Fish Commission steamer FISH HAWK was dispatched in 1898 with Dr. Barton W. Evermann as naturalist in charge. The itinerary of the visit is summarized below from Evermann and Marsh (1899) (Table 2).

The work of Evermann and his assistant M.C. Marsh resulted in two publications.  The first entitled "Descriptions of New Genera and Species of Fishes from Porto Rico" with a publication date of 19 December 1899 included 20 new taxa of which eight are still recognized (Table 3).

In addition to the fish collected on the FISH HAWK expedition Evermann and Marsh report on 37 species collected by George Gray during the winter of 1899-1900 in San Juan.  This complete report on the fishes of Puerto Rico was first issued as document 451 of the U.S. Fish Commission on 15 December 19001.  The report was so well received that Congress ordered a special edition of 7,500 copies be printed.  The report contains 49 color plates and 115 black and white drawing were produced but unfortunately were destroyed by fire before being able to be included in the text.  Two hundred and sixty-three species are reported with 52% (132) being new to the region. Thirteen new species were described of which seven are still recognized
(Table 4).

_______________________________________
1 Date of publication taken from MacDonald (1921).

Table 2. FISH HAWK expedition itinerary in Puerto Rico during 1899.

Sampling Dates

Locations Visited

2-17         January

around San Juan

18           January

Aguadilla

19-24      January

around Mayagüez

25           January

Ensenada del Boquerón

26-27      January

Puerto Real

28-29      January

Bahía Guanica

30           January - 2 February

Ponce

3-4          February

Arroyo

5              February

St. Thomas

6              February

St. Thomas to Vieques

7              February

Isabel Segunda, Vieques

8              February

Vieques to Culebra

9-12         February

Culebra

13-15      February

Hucares

16-18      February

Fajardo

19           February

St. Thomas

20-22      February

San Juan

Table 3. New species described in Evermann and Marsh (1899).

Current Name

Original Name

Location

Gear

Bollmannia boqueronensis

Bollmannia boqueronensis

off Puerto Real

dredge

Coralliozetus cardonae

Coralliozetus cardonae

Isla Cardona, Ponce

hand?

Enneanectes jordani

Gillias jordani

 Isla Cardona, Ponce

hand?

Microgobius meeki

Microgobius meeki

off  Culebra

 

Paraclinus cingulatus

Auchenistius cingulatus

Ponce, Puerto Real

hand?

Serranus baldwini

Prionodes baldwini

off  Culebra

 

Starksia culebrae

Malacoctenus culebrae

off  Culebra

hand?

Stathmonotus stahli

Auchenistius stahli

Ponce, Puerto Real

hand?

Table 4. New species described in Evermann and Marsh (1900).

Current Name

Original Name

Location

Gear

Ichthyapus ophioneus

Sphagebranchus ophioneus

Mayagüez

dredge

Anchoa lyolepis

Stolephorus lyolepis

Culebra

?

Neomerinthe beanorum

Pontinus beanorum

San Juan

beam trawl

Scorpaena albifimbria

Scorpaena albifimbria

Culebra

tangle dredge

Scorpaena bergii

Scorpaena bergii

Mayagüez, Culebra

seine

Emblemaria pandionis

Emblemaria pandionis

Vieques

tangle dredge

Citharichthys arenaceus

Citharichthys arenaceus

Mayagüez, Aguadilla, San Juan

?

Specimens from the FISH HAWK expedition were deposited in the U.S. National Museum (USNM) and Stanford University collection (now in the California Academy of Science (CAS-SU) collection) and are still accessible.  Duplicate specimens were deposited in the Academy of Natural Science Philadelphia (ANSP) in 1901 (Fowler, 1901).

Nichols

J.T. Nichols visited Puerto Rico from 8 July to 5 August 1914 as part of a biological survey of the island sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences and the Puerto Rico government. Most of the field work was near San Juan with excursions to Ponce, Guanica, and the mouth of Río Loiza. He reports on three marine species in a short note (Nichols, 1915a) and seventeen other species in a more detailed paper (Nichols, 1915b). Two new species were described but have since been synonymized. These materials were deposited at the American Museum of Natural History were they can still be found. The fishes of Puerto Rico were reviewed in two volumes of the New York Academy of Sciences "Scientific Survey of Porto Rico and the Virgin Islands" including the above records and a summary of previous work (Nichols, 1929, 1930). Also included in this work with were records from St. Croix thought little was added to the previous work of Cope (1871).

Silvester

Charles F. Silvester visited Guanica in May and June 1915 under the auspices of the Carnegie Institution of Washington collecting over 100 taxa (Silvester, 1916). Seven new taxa were named but only two survive today, Phaeoptyx conklini and Ophioblennius atlanticus macclurei.  The records of the 1916 paper were reiterated in a 1918 publication with plates of new species, additional information, and some name changes.  Three new taxa were listed in 1918 including one new species description that has since fallen into synonymy. These were deposited at the Princeton University Zoological Museum.

Erdman

Donald S. Erdman first visited Puerto Rico from December 1944 to May 1946 and jumped right into fish studies with a paper on mackerel (Erdman, 1949).  He visited the ichthyological collection at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez that was started around 1934 and had been added to by a succession of professors and students including investigators of exploratory fishery surveys. He examined the fish collection at the Fishery Research Laboratory near the college and continued their study as visiting professor in ichthyology through 1954. As fishery biologist for the Department of Agriculture and Commerce, he revised the list of Puerto Rico fishes with a summary of 108 new records (Erdman, 1956).  He communicated regularly with ichthyologists of the time thus maintained an up-to-date nomenclature. He sent specimens to several museums, primary the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and authored more than 20 papers on Puerto Rico fishes through 1986 when he was senior author of a summary of commercially important marine fishes and their life history (Erdman et al., 1986). This information included herein evolved from a preliminary species list first put together by Erdman. He was the first formerly trained ichthyologist on site and his many years of study are evident in the broad range of topics covered in his publications.

Randall

John E. (Jack) Randall came to the area in 1958 as part of a survey of the marine park in St. John by the Institute of Marine Science, University of Miami (Kumpf and Randall, 1961).  From November 1958 through June 1961 Jack, Herman Kumpf, and Helen (his wife) and a range of students and professors from University of Miami and elsewhere made over 250 collections around St. John (Appendix A).  In addition, he contributed to the Botany Bay (St. Thomas) Survey conducted in 1964-1965 under the direction of the American Littoral Society (Clark et al., 1966). These collections were used in many systematic studies of the time and Randall's extensive survey of reef fish food habits (Randall, 1967). These collections include 627 lots deposited in the University of Miami fish collection (UMML) now housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History (UF).  He continued his work at the University of Puerto Rico marine field station in La Parguera from 1961 through 1965. In his book "Caribbean Reef Fishes" (1968a) he includes 177 photographs of fishes from St. John, 72 from Puerto Rico, and three from St. Thomas. In the second edition (1983) an additional six species are figured from Puerto Rico. His relatively short stay in the area resulted in 39 publications and description of ten new species (Table 5).  A further three species were described by other scientist based on the materials collected by Randall.

Table 5. New species collected by Randall.

Current Name

Original Name

Location

Reference

Described by Randall

 

 

 

Apogon phenax

Apogon phenax

Mayagüez; St. John

Böhlke & Randall, 1968

Apogon pillionatus

Apogon pillionatus

La Parguera

Böhlke & Randall, 1968

Chaenopsis limbaughi

Chaenopsis limbaughi

Culebra, Mayagüez, St. John

Robins & Randall, 1965

Ctenogobius saepepallens

Gobionellus saepepallens

Culebra, St. John

Gilbert & Randall, 1968

Hyperochilus springeri

Hyperochilus springeri

Cabo Rojo, Mayagüez, St. John, Guana Isl.

Randall, 1966a

Liopropoma carmabi

Chorististium carmabi

La Parguera

Randall, 1963b

Lipogramma trilineata

Lipogramma trilineata

La Parguera

Randall, 1963b

Phaeoptyx xenus

Apogon xenus

La Parguera, St. Thomas, St. John

Böhlke & Randall, 1968

Ptereleotris helenae

Ioglossus helenae

Mayagüez; St. Thomas, St. John

Randall, 1968b

Symphurus arawak

Symphurus arawak

St. John

Robins & Randall, 1965

Described by other workers

 

 

 

Elacatinus randalli

Gobiosoma randalli

La Parguera

Böhlke & Robins. 1968

Gordiichthys randalli

Gordiichthys randalli

Aguadilla 

McCosker & Böhlke, 1984

Rypticus randalli

Rypticus randalli

Mayagüez

Courtenay, 1967

Nuclear Center

Starting in 1971 the Puerto Rico Nuclear Center of the University of Puerto Rico was under contract to the Water Resources Authority to conduct nuclear plant site selection surveys and environmental research at nine coastal sites: Bahía Tortuguero (Yoshioka, 1975a), Punta Manati (Yoshioka, 1975d), Punta Higuero (Martin and Patus, 1974; Yoshioka, 1975e), Cabo Rojo (Yoshioka, 1975b), Punta Verraco (Yoshioka, 1975f), Bahía Guayanilla (Wood et al., 1975), Bahía Jobos (Martin and Patus, 1973; 1975), Cabo Mala Pascua (Yoshioka, 1975c), and Punta Las Tunas (Kimmel, 1975).  These studies were initiated by F. Douglas Martin and James W. Patus, who left the area in 1975 and Joseph J. Kimmel took over their studies. Fish accounts in the reports by Yoshioka are attributable to Kimmel. These studies resulted in considerable collections in habitats previously not well sampled, such as, rocky shores and mangroves and there were 22 new records reported (Table 6).  Some of the collections were deposited in museums (USNM, UMMZ, SIO) but for the most part they appear to have been lost when the Nuclear center changed to the Center for Energy and Environmental Research (CEER). CEER continued fish work for a short while through an intensive study of Laguna Joyuda on the west coast (García, 1981; García and Williams, 1985; Stoner, 1986).

Table 6. New records from studies of the Puerto Rico Nuclear Center.

Taxa

Location

Reference

Acanthemblemaria aspera

Bahía Jobos

Martin & Patus, 1973

Albula nemoptera

Bahía Yabucoa

Martin & Patus, 1984

Apogon evermanni

Cabo Rojo

Martin & Patus, 1984

Astrapogon punticulatus

Bahía Jobos

Martin & Patus, 1973

Barbulifer maculiferus

Punta Las Tunas

Kimmel, 1975

Bathygobius mystacium

Bahía Jobos

Martin & Patus, 1973

Dactyloscopus crossotus

Punta Higuero

Martin & Patus, 1974

Elacatinus dilepis

Bahía Jobos

Martin & Patus, 1973

Elacatinus prochilos

?

Martin & Patus, 1984

Eucinostomus jonesii

Bahía Guayanilla, Bahía Jobos

Martin & Patus, 1973

Halichoeres caudalis

Punta Monserrate, Luquillo

Martin & Patus, 1984

Hippocampus reidi

Punta Las Tunas

Kimmel, 1975

Hyperoglyphe perciformis

Bahía Jobos

Martin & Patus, 1973

Melanorhinus microps

Bahía Tortuguero

Yoshioka, 1975a

Paraclinus grandicomis

Punta Las Tunas

Kimmel, 1975

Scorpaenodes tredecimspinosus

Bahía Jobos

Martin & Patus, 1984

Starksia slutieri

Bahía Jobos

Martin & Patus, 1984

Stathmonotus hemphilli

Bahía Tortuguero

Yoshioka, 1975a

Stellifer stellifer

Bahía Jobos

Martin & Patus, 1973

Strongylura marina

Bahía Guayanilla, Bahía Jobos

Martin & Patus, 1973

Syngnathus pelagicus

Bahía Jobos

Martin & Patus, 1975

Synodus saurus

Punta Las Tunas

Kimmel, 1975

Martin and Patus' work was summarized in "An annotated key to the teleost fishes of Puerto Rico" (1984). Unfortunately this work was not distributed in any number thus is hard to find.

La Parguera Marine Laboratory, University of Puerto Rico

Much of the fish work in Puerto Rico has revolved around the marine laboratory at La Parguera. Founded in 1956 a succession of ichthyology professors, including Randall, John Ramsey, William Eger, Patrick Colin, and Dannie Hensley and their students have collected in the area. The main Puerto Rican marine fish collection (UPRM) is housed at the La Parguera marine laboratory where there is still substantial uncataloged material. A full range of habitats occur in the La Parguera area such that almost any fish reported from Puerto Rico can be found there.

Other Expeditions to the Region

Bayer (1969) reviews the marine expeditions to the Caribbean.  Several deep sea expeditions have visited the region primarily as coaling and supply stops. A few shallow-water fish collections were made such as when the HASSLER visited St. Thomas during the cruise of 1871-72. These specimens are housed in the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ).

The Smithsonian-Bredin Expedition visited the region from 14 April - 17 April 1956 and 25 March - 14 April 1958 surveying the relatively unknown area of the British Virgin Islands (Schmitt, 1956; 1959). Table 7 lists the collections made on the Plateau that included fishes.  A faunal summary from this work has not been made but specimens have been reported in systematic publications. Specimens collected during the expedition are housed in the USNM.ab

Table 7. Stations with fish specimens from the Smithsonian-Bredin Expedition in 1958.

Station No.

 Island

Locality

Gear

Date

2-58

St. John

 

 

25 March

4a-58

 Tortola

 

 

26 March

5-58

 Tortola

Road Harbour, Burt Pt., flats with Porites

 

27 March

8a-58

Guana Isl.

White Bay

 

27 March

10-58

Virgin Gorda

Prickly Pear Isl. E of Vixen Pt. grassbed with coral

 

28 March

11-58

Virgin Gorda

Virgin Gorda Sound

 

28 March

13-58

Virgin Gorda

Virgin Gorda Sound

 

28 March

20-58

Peter Isl.

 

 

29 March

25-58

 Tortola

Soper's Hole

 

1 April

34-58

 Tortola

 

 

5 April

36-58

Virgin Gorda

 

 

6 April

36b-58

Virgin Gorda

Prickly Pear Isl. E of Vixen Pt.

bottom light

6 April

37-58

Virgin Gorda

Colquhoun reef entrance to North Sound

 

7 April

41-58

Virgin Gorda

reef, Eustatia Isl.

 

7 April

The U.S. exploratory fishing vessel OREGON visited the Plateau on several occasions. The most important in regard to shallow-water fishes was the 1959 cruise when 25 trawl collections less than 200 m were made (Bullis and Thompson, 1965; see appendix B for list of stations).  In 1965, several longline stations were occupied off Puerto Rico supplying new records of diskfishes (Echeneidae) for the area (Dennis et al., in prep.). Cruises by the OREGON and its replacement OREGON II have deployed a wide variety of gear around the Plateau but the emphasis has been in deeper waters.  Specimens from these collections can be found at the FMNH, USNM, and UF.

The Tektite underwater habitat was used in two programs at Lameshur Bay, St. John. Tektite I was a single 60-day mission from 15 February to 15 April 1969 (Clifton et al., 1970).  The Tektite II program completed ten missions between April and November 1970 (Miller et al., 1972). Seven papers (Bright, 1972, Clifton and Hunter, 1972; Collette and Talbot, 1972; Earle, 1972; Hartline et al., 1972; Mahnken, 1972; Smith and Tyler, 1972) with information on reef fishes were published as part of a special volume of the Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County Science Bulletin (Collette and Earle, 1972).

A second undersea habitat "La Chalupa" was deployed off Puerto Real, Puerto Rico from November 1972 until August 1973 as part of the Puerto Rico International Undersea Laboratory (PRINUL). Olsen and Sheen (1975) summarize the accomplishments of the program and four fish papers resulted from the work (Barlow, 1975a, 1975b; Parrish and Zimmerman, 1977; Parrish, 1982).

The Virgin Islands are the least explored region of the Plateau though their have been important collections made at Anegada in 1976 by Dunne and Brown (1979). Seven rotenone stations were occupied and specimens from these are deposited in the BMNH. They identified 185 taxa during their study.

St. John was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in June 1976. A detailed study of the marine environment ensued with three reports on fishes (Boulon, 1985a, 1985b, 1987).  There have been few published reports on fishes of St. Thomas except for the studies of Hixon and Beets on artificial reefs in Perseverance Bay (Beets, 1989; Beets & Hixon, 1994; Hixon and Beets, 1989; 1993).  Of all the major islands, the least known are Tortola and Virgin Gorda. No faunal lists have been published though there are a considerable number of specimens in museum collections.

References

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Bayer, F.M. 1969. A review of research and exploration in the Caribbean Sea and adjacent waters. FAO Fish. Rept 71.1: 41-88.

Barlow, G.W. 1975a. On the sociobiology of some hermaphroditic serranid fishes, the hamlets in Puerto Rico. Mar. Biol. (Berlin) 33: 295-300.

Barlow, G.W. 1975b. On the sociobiology of four Puerto Rican parrotfishes. Mar. Biol. (Berlin) 33: 281-293.

Beets, J. 1989. Experimental evaluation of fish recruitment to combinations of fish aggregating devices and benthic artificial reefs. Bull. Mar. Sci. 44: 973-983.

Beets, J. and M.A. Hixon.1994. Distribution, persistence, and growth of groupers (Pisces: Serranidae) on artificial and natural patch reefs in the Virgin Islands. Bull. Mar. Sci. 55(2-3): 470-483.

Böhlke, J.E. and J.E. Randall. 1963. The fishes of the western Atlantic serranoid genus Gramma. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phil. 115: 33-52.

Böhlke, J.E. and J.E. Randall. 1968. A key to the shallow-water west Atlantic cardinalfishes (Apogonidae), with descriptions of five new species. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phil. 120: 175-206.

Böhlke, J.E. and C.R. Robins. 1968. Western Atlantic seven-spined gobies, with descriptions of ten new species and a new genus, and comments on Pacific relatives. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phil. 120: 45-174.

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Boulon, R.H. 1987. A basis for long-term monitoring of fish and shellfish species in the Virgin Islands National Park. Virgin Islands Resource Management Cooperative, St. Thomas, Biosphere Reserve Rept. No. 22, 64 p.

Bright, T.J. 1972. Bio-acoustic studies on reef organisms. Nat. Hist. Mus. L.A. Co. Sci. Bull. 14: 45-69.

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Clark, J., H.E. Kumpf, H.A. Randall, and J.F. Storr. 1965. The Botany Bay Survey Report. Underwater Naturalist 3(2): 6-48.

Clifton, H.E. and R.E. Hunter. 1972. The sand tilefish Malacanthus plumieri and the distribution of coarse debris near West Indies coral reefs. Nat. Hist. Mus. L.A. Co. Sci. Bull. 14: 87-92.

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Collette, B.B. and S.A. Earle. 1972. Results of the Tektite program: Ecology of coral reef fishes. Nat. Hist. Mus. L.A. Co. Sci. Bull. No. 14, 180 p.

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