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Revista de Biología Tropical

On-line version ISSN 0034-7744Print version ISSN 0034-7744

Rev. biol. trop vol.51 n.3-4 San José Sep. 2003


The fish fauna in tropical rivers:
The case of the Sorocaba river basin, SP, Brazil

Welber Senteio Smith 1 , Miguel Petrere Jr. 2 & Walter Barrella 3

1 Departamento de Hidráulica e Saneamento-Escola de Engenharia de São Carlos-Universidade de São Paulo (USP), Centro de Recursos Hídricos e Ecologia Aplicada, Rua Anibal Costa Dias, 34. 18043-020 Sorocaba, SP. Brazil, E-mail:, Fax: 01515-2215306

2 Departamento de Ecologia, Universidade Estadual Paulista, CP199, CEP 13506-900- Rio Claro (SP), Brazil

3 Departamento de Ciências do Ambiente, Pontíficia Universidade Católica de São Paulo

Received 18-IV-2001.        Corrected 10-X-2002.        Accepted 15-XI-2002.


A survey was carried out on the fish species in the Sorocaba River basin, the main tributary of the left margin of the Tietê River, located in the State of São Paulo, Brazil. The species were collected with gill nets. After identification of the specimens, their relative abundance, weight and standard length were determined. Up to the present moment there are not any studies that focus this subject in this hydrographic basin. Fifty-three species, distributed in eighteen families and six orders were collected. Characiformes were represented by twenty-eight species, Siluriformes by seventeen species, the Gymnotiformes by three species, Perciformes and Cyprinodontiformes by two species, and the Synbranchiformes by one species. Among the collected species there were two exotic. The most abundant species were Astyanax fasciatus and Hypostomus ancistroides. In relation to total weight the most representative species were Hoplias malabaricus and Hypostomus ancistroides. Cyprinus carpio, Prochilodus lineatus, Schizodon nasutus and Hoplias malabaricus were the most representative species in relation to average weight. Largest standard length were recorded for Sternopygus macrurus, Steindachnerina insculpta, Eigenmannia aff. virescens and Cyprinus carpio.

Key words: freshwater fishes, spatial distribution, Sorocaba River, lagoon, reservoir, Brazil.

Vari and Malabarba (1998) proposed that the number of species in South and Central America could rise to 5600. There are 3228 fish species in South America (Gery 1969). Lowe-McConnel (1969) reported 1383 identified species in Brazil, distributed in 46 families. The orders Siluriformes and Characiformes are dominant. Britski (1972) emphasizes that Characidae is the most representative family of freshwater fishes in Brazil. It is estimated that in South America there are 58 families of Teleostei (Lowe-McConnel 1975).

In the State of São Paulo, Brazil, Castro and Menezes (1998) report the existence of 261 freshwater fish species distributed in 22 families (Britski 1972). Recently Castro and Menezes (1998) registered 25 families of fishes, where the order Siluriformes prevail over the others, and Characiformes was the second most important (Castro and Menezes 1998).

Many authors have focused the studies of the ichthyofauna of rivers of the Tietê River basin (Godoy 1975, Caramaschi 1986, Castro and Arcifa 1987, Barrela, 1989, Barrela and Petrere 1994, Barrela, 1998 and Smith, 1999). According to Bizerril (1996), despite the increase of publications on ecological aspects of fish communities in South America, a comprehensive knowledge is still incipient.

Furthermore, due to the explosive growth of human population there is an increasing need to explore water resources, especially regarding the use of the water of the rivers as energy source, water supply and to dilute domestic and industrial effluents. Aquatic ecosystems suffer a deep impacts due to these activities. In this case, the ichthyofauna composition is constantly changing and some unknown might disappear or become rare. Therefore, knowing the ichthyofauna of a river basin is the first step to future studies, such as monitoring projects, regarding fish conservation and its application to studies regarding polluttion control (Smith et al. 1997).

The lack of studies about fish fauna and its ecological characteristics in the Sorocaba River basin is a known fact. Thus, this study has the objective to know about the composition of the fish species in Sorocaba river basin, its distribution along the basin and to characterize its main species.

Material and methods

There are 18 cities in the drainage area of 5269 km2 of the Sorocaba river basin, located in the State of São Paulo (Anonymous 1990). This hydrographic basin is constituted by Sorocaba River, which is mainly formed by the rivers Sorocamirim and Sorocabuçu and its main tributary rivers the Tatuí, Sarapuí, Pirajibú, and Ipanema rivers. Samples were collected in thirteen stations located in seven rivers, being four points along the Sorocaba River (so01, so02, so03 e so04), three points in the Ipanema River (ip01, ip02 e ip03), two points in the Sarapuí River (sa01 e sa02) and one point in the rivers Tatuí (ta01), Pirajibú (pj01) and Pirapora (pi01) (Fig. 1). From those, eleven are lotics kind and two are lentic kind. The so01 station is a reservoir and so03 station is a marginal lagoon (Table 1).


The fish sampling consisted of 26 campaigns in 13 collecting stations. Samples were collected at each site in the dry and rainy seasons. Two batteries of gill nets with 8 nets of 10 meters in length and 1.5 meters in width, and different meshes (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 12 cm between opposite knots) were used to catch fish. Fishes were measured, weighed and fixed in 10% formaline solution, preserved in 70% alcohol and identified according to Britsky (1972). The identification of the species was confirmed by Heraldo Britski, Zoology Museum, University of São Paulo.

Information about species composition, number of individuals, weight and standard length for each specimen was recorded for each collecting station. The species inventory was complemented with the information about species described in the marginal lagoons of the Sorocaba River by Smith and Barrella (1994) and data from reports of Environmental Impacts conducted in this hydrographic basin in 1993 in rivers Ipanema e Sorocaba. These data were only used to describe the ichthyofauna and were calculated the constancy ocorrence of species. Resident species were the ones present in more than 50% of the collections, accessory present in 25 to 50% of the collections and accidental, present in fewer than 25% of the collections (Dajos 1983). Information for fish diet and reproduction were gathered in the current literature.


Inventory of the Ichthyofauna. In this work 53 fish species were identified in the basin, distributed in 18 families and 6 orders (Table 2). Characiformes was represented by 28 species, 52.8% of the total of species collected. It was followed by Siluriformes with 17 species (32.1%); Gymnotiformes with 3 species (5.7%) of the total; Perciformes and Cipronodontiformes with 2 species, both representing 3.8% of the total; and Synbranchiformes with one specie corresponding to 1.8% of the total number of species.

Of these species, 96.2% are natives, only 3.8% are exotic. Besides 64.8% of species are captured for fishing in the basin. The professional fishery is incipient while sport fishery is practiced by larger amount of people. Many people utilize the fishes as food.

The distribution of the Ichthyofauna along the basin. Table 3 shows the species that were identified in the basin and the places where they occur. It is possible to describe the distribution of the ichthyofauna along the rivers, lagoons and reservoirs of the basin as follows:


Widely distributed in the basin: species were found in all the streams, rivers, lagoons and reservoirs such as Hoplias malabaricus, Astyanax fasciatus, Astyanax altiparanae, Prochilodus lineatus, Gymnotus carapo, Geophagus brasiliensis and Phaloceros caudimaculatus.

Species were restricted to or more frequently found in headwater streams: Trichomycterus sp, Cheirodon sp, Astyanax scabripinnis, Corydoras aeneus and Characidium zebra. These species were collected in tributary streams of "Itupararanga" reservoir, "Ribeirão do Ferro" and other stream.

Species were restricted to lentic environments: they were collected in the "Itupararanga" reservoir, marginal lagoons and stillwater: Cyprinus carpio, Synbranchus marmoratus, Oreochromis niloticus and Cyphocarax modestus.

Species that prefer lotic environments: they were found in the rivers Sorocaba, Tatuí, Sarapuí and Pirapora, Hypostomus ancistroides, Hypostomus margaritifer, Prochilodus lineatus, Leporinus striatus, Leporinus obtusidens, Schizodon nasutus and Apareiodon piracicabae belong to this group.

Species that prefer long stretches of river: among this group are Salminus hilarii, Iheringichthys labrosus, Galeocharax knerii, Pimelodus maculatus, and Schizodon nasutus. They were found in the rivers Sorocaba, Tatuí, Sarapuí and Ipanema.

Species that benefit of disturbed environments: these species were collected mainly in the Tatuí River and the Sorocaba River. Hoplosternum litoralle, Callichthys callichthys, and two species of Hypostmous (Hypostomus ancistroides and Hypostomus margaritifer) belong to this group.

Small sized fishes that inhabit the margins of rivers and lagoons, living under the protection of macrophytes and marginal vegetation: these species were found in most of the basin aquatic environment. The species exhibiting these characteristics are: Corydoras aeneus, Cheirodon notomelas, Cheirodon sp, Characidium fasciatum, Hemigrammus marginatus, Phaloceros caudimaculatus and Poecilia vivipara.

Species that are adapted to reservoirs: species found in the "Itupararanga" reservoir are: Cyphocharax modestus, Astyanax fasciatus, Oreochromis niloticus and Geophagus brasiliensis.

Figure 2 shows the species richness in the four habitats. River are the richest ones, followed by marginal lagoons. The reservoir present the lesser richness, perhaps due to habitat change. Headstreams are also poor mostly due to resource limitation and niche availability and geological traits.

Characterization of the Ichthyofauna in the present study. A total of 626 individuals were collected; corresponding to a total fish weight of 79.0 kg, belonging to 37 species distributed in 28 genera, 4 orders and 15 families of teleosts fishes. The Characiforms are the most representative group contributing with 46.0% of the species, followed by Siluriformes (37.8%), Gymnotiformes (8.1%) and Perciformes (5.4%) and Cypriniformes (2.7%). Among the families, Characidae and Loricaridae are noticed, both with 18.4% and Pimelodidade with 15.8% of the collected species.

The abundance, average standard length, total and average weight of each captured species are shown in Table 4. The Characidae family is the most abundant family in the Sorocaba River Basin, dominating its rivers and lagoons. The family has 7 species, grouped in 4 genera, where Astyanax was the most abundant and widely distributed species of this family. Among the Siluriformes, the most important families in number of species were the Loricaridae and Pimelodidade with 7 and 5 genera, respectively. The genus Hypostomus (Loricaridae) was the most captured. The next family is the Curimatidae with 2 genera and 2 species, among them the Cyphocharax is the most abundant.


Overall, the Characidae and Loricaridae presented the highest relative abundance of individuals, with 38% and 21.4% respectively, followed by the Curimatidade family with 11.4%. The most important families in relative weight, was Loricaridae and Erythrinidae that presented highest percentages in total weight of 29.0% and 19.0%, respectively (Fig. 3).

The most abundant species were the Astyanax fasciatus and the Hypostomus ancistroides with 318 and 239 individuals. The less abundant species in the basin were the Cyprinus carpio and Cyphocharax nagelli with only one individual. The most representative species in relation to weight were the Hoplias malabaricus with 15 g and the Hypostomus ancistroides with 11.9 g (Table 4).

The species that presented the largest average standard length were Sternopygus macrurus with 41.5 cm, Steindachnerina insculpta with 33.9 cm, Eigenmannia aff. virescens with 30.8 cm and Cyprinus carpio with 27 cm. The smallest captured species were Astyanax sp with 6 cm and Astyanax altiparanae with 6.2 cm. In general, the species that showed the highest abundance had the smallest average standard length, whereas the species with the largest average standard length were less abundant (Table 4).

In the entire collection, the most representative species in respect to average weight were Cyprinus carpio with 530 g, Prochilodus lineatus with 244.4 g, Schizodon nasutus and Hoplias malabaricus with 188 and 187.6 g, respectively. The species with the lowest weight values were Pimelodella sp, Pimelodus macu latus and the Hypostomus sp C, all with 5 g (Table 4). The most common species at the collecting stations was Hypostomus ancistroides present in 78% of the collected samples and distributed in most of the streams and rivers, marginal lagoons and in the Itupararanga reservoir.

Hoplias malabaricus, Astyanax fasciatus and Astyanax altiparanae were captured in 69.2% of the collected samples. These species were also widely distributed in streams, rivers, lagoons and reservoir of the basin (Table 3). When considering the collecting stations, Astyanax altiparanae was present in 11 of the 13 collecting stations. Hoplias malabaricus, Astyanax fasciatus and Hypostomus ancistroides were present in 10 of the 13 stations sampled and showed the widest spatial distribution in the basin. The species that presented a restricted distribution were Pimelodella sp, Pimelodus maculatus, Cyphocharax nagelli, Cyprinus carpio, Hypostomus sp C and Sternopygus macrurus). Specimens of these species were captured at the station sa02, sa01, so01,so01, so04 and ip03, respectively.

Hoplias malabaricus, Astyanax fasciatus, Astyanax altiparanae, Prochilodus lineatus, Gymnotus carapo, Geophagus brasiliensis and Hypostomus ancistroides were considered residents (present in more than 50% of the collections), Astyanax sp, Hoplosternum litoralle, Acestrorhynchus lacustris, Salminus hilarii, Tilapia nilotica, Iheringichthys labrosus, Steindachnerina insculpta, Cyphocharax modestus and Hypostomus margaritifer acessory (present in 25% to 50% of the collections) and Serrasalmus spilopleura, Eigenmannia sp, Galeocharax knerii, Rhamdia sp, Pimelodella sp, Pimelodus maculatus, Schizodon nasutus, Leporinus obtusidens, Parodon tortuosus, Apareiodon piracicabae, Rineloricaria latirostris, Cyphocharax nagelli, Cyprinus carpio, Oligossarcus paranensis, Hyspostomus sp A, Hypostomus sp B, Hypostomus sp C, Rineloricaria sp A and Sternopygus macrurus accidental (present in fewer than 25% of the collections).

The exotic species present in the Sorocaba River basin seem to be restricted to habitats with low hydrodynamics such as lagoons and reservoirs. Cyprinus carpio and Oreochromis niloticus are the 2 species captured in the basin natural environment. Oreochromis niloticus was the most abundant specie captured in 3 stations, while the carp was present in only one station. Hoplosternum litoralle is considered exotic (accidental introduction) for some ichthyologists (Britski, personal communication).

Characterization of the main species. The species of genus Astyanax (Astyanax fasciatus, Astyanax altiparanae, Astyanax cabripinnis and Astyanax eigenmaniorum) are omnivorous fishes with great alimentary flexibility (Agostinho and Julio Jr 1999), and it is widely distributied in the Sorocaba river basin. These species exibit external fecundation, are not migratory and do not present parental care (Vazzoler and Menezes, 1992). Astyanax fasciatus present total spawining and Astyanax altiparanae present parcelled spawining (Vazzoler and Menezes 1992). These species are omnivorous, forager, with feed flexibility and have wide distribution in the Latin America (Nelson 1984 apud Castro and Arcifa 1987). Astyanax scabripinnis just occur in headwater streams.

Cyphocharax modestus and Steindachnerina insculpta are iliophagous species when adults and plancthophagous when young (Castro and Arcifa 1987). They are adapted to colonize lentics habitats, do are not migratory, do not present parental care and are parcelled spawners. Prochilodus lineatus present external fecundation, is migratory and present parental care (Vazzoler and Menezes 1992). Serrasalmus spilopleura is not migratory, present parental care and utilize the "aguapé" (Eichhornia sp.) and other macrophytes for laying eggs (Castro and Arcifa 1987, Thomaz and Bini 1999). Their diet is predominant piscivore.

Hoplias malabaricus show a wide distribution in rivers, lagoons and reservoir of the basin. This species present parcelled spawning (Vazzoler and Menezes 1992) and parental care, prefering lentic habitats. Salminus hilarii is a migratory species with parental care and total spawining, while Acestrorhynchus lacustris and Schizodon nasutus are not migratory and do not care for the offspring (Vazzoler and Menezes 1992). The species of genus Parodon and Apareiodon occur in lotic habitats. These species are parcelled spawning.

The species of genus Hypostomus prefer lotics habitats (Uieda 1983), parcelled spawning and herbivorous or iliophagous diet. In countampart Rhamdia quelen and Pimelodus maculatus are parcelled spawning and are carnivorous. These species are abundant in rivers, principally in lotic habitats. The interesting species is Hoplosternum litoralle, very abundant in locals with increase concentration of organic composed and low water oxynation. This specie is adapted to live in impacted habitats because present saculiforms structures in intestinal alces, than facilitate gaseous exchange (Kramer 1987). The gretat abundance of Hoplosternum litoralle in marginal lagoons is due to its increased endurance to lowd dissolved oxygen concentration (Agostinho and Julio Jr. 1999). Geophagus brasiliensis is a species with wide distribution in the basin, presenting omnivore diet, parental care and use the substratum to spawn (Castro and Arcifa 1987).


The fish fauna of the Sorocaba River basin showed similarities with reported data of the other studies. Its ichthyofauna was dominated by Characiformes and Siluriformes with 28 and 20 species, respectively. The Characidae family was the most representative. Matthews (1998) observed that there are many species per family in temperate river assemblages. On the other hand, in tropical river assemblages there are few species per family, but many families. In the Sorocaba River basin it was not different, 14 families were found, some of them represented by only one species, as observed with Prochilodontidae, Serrasalmidae, and Erythrinidae, among others.

Matthews (1998) also stresses that the successs of a family in a tropical river is due to its availability food, habitats and general resources. When compared to other basins, the results obtained in this study show that there are a high number of families in the Sorocaba River basin, especially if the limited number of samples and the little knowledge of the ichthyofauna of this basin are taken into account.

The ichthyofauna of the Sorocaba River is characterized by omnivorous, carnivorous, iliophagus and herbivorous (algae and plants) species; no herbivorous species specialized in fruits or seeds were collected. Agostinho and Julio Jr (1999) say that in the High Parana Basin, where Sorocaba Basin is included, piscivorous and iliophagous species are dominant.

Furthermore, species that depend on organic matter imported from the riparian forest for feeding, reproduction and shelter (Castro and Menezes 1998) are in disadvantage due to intense deforesting of the area (Smith 1999). As example we can refer to Brycon sp, which should occur in the basin, albeit not caught, it was reported in the area (Britsky 1972). Arcifa (1987) warns for the reduction of fish population that relies in riparian vegetation resources such as seeds, fruits and insects.

Besides the lost of the riparian vegetation other impacts occurred in the basin as domestic and industrial sewage, draining of flood-plain lakes, exotic species introduction, etc. (Smith and Barrella 2000, Smith and Petrere 2000). Amoung the species which were not caught due to these causes are the species of the subfamily Sorubiminae how Pseudo-platystoma corruscans, Hemisorubim platyrhynchos and Paulicea luetkeni. These species were documented for the Piracicaba River (another affluent of Tiete river by the right margin) (Monteiro, 1953), Mogi-Guassu river (Rio Grande basin), (Schubart 1962) and for the Stete of Sao Paulo (Britskii 1972). Moreover some species presented characteristics which allowed them to stay in these polluted places as Hoplosternum litoralle, Hypostomus ancistroides among other. These species exhibit accessory respiration being considered resistent to low dissolved oxygen.

The ichthyofauna spatial distribution shown in this paper is in accordance with several other published works in other hydrographic basins, if environmental characteristics are considered. Species that are less demanding for food and reproduction, such as Hoplias malabaricus, Astyanax fasciatus, Astyanax altiparanae, Geophagus brasiliensis and Phaloceros caudimaculatus, show a wide geographic distribution. It was already shown that these species are the most common in rivers, streams and lagoons in the State of São Paulo (Britski 1972). In addition to these widely distributed species, there are species that are usually found in specific environments.

Castro and Arcifa (1987) emphasized the dominance of Cyphocharax modestus and Astyanax fasciatus in reservoirs of the State of São Paulo. This is the same result that was obtained in the Itupararanga reservoir.

Besides the species that were well adapted to the reservoir environment, there are those species that are typical to lotic environments such as Hypostomus ancistroides, Hypostomus margaritifer, Prochilodus lineatus, Leporinus striatus, Leporinus obtusidens, Schizodon nasutus and Apareiodon piracicabae. Britski (1972), Nomura (1984) and Uieda (1995) characterized the genus Hypostomus as vegetarians and inhabitants of flowing water sites. Nomura (1984) also describes the genus Apareiodon as a preferential inhabitant of these.

At this point, the capture of "corimbatá" (Prochilodus lineatus) in marginal lagoons must be emphasized. The presence of this specie, typical of riverbeds, in marginal lagoons suggests that these lagoons have the role of fish nurseries (Godoy 1995) due to food and shelter availability (Veríssimo 1994) and also to food sources for adult individuals. According to Smith and Barrella (2000) the most abundant species and weight is Prochilodus lineatus and Hoplias malabaricus, confirmed by Lowe-McConell (1987). Smith and Barrella (2000) also state that low size specimens as Phaloceros caudimaculatus, Geophagus brasiliensis and Serrapinus notomelas are very abundant.

In the Sorocaba River basin there are several headwater streams that should be studied. In these streams Trichomycterus sp and Astyanax scabripinnis were captured and characterized as typical species of this environment (Britski 1997, personal comm.). Agostinho and Julio Jr (1999) also state that Astyanax scabripinnis is typical creek specie. According to Menezes (1998, personal comm.), the unknown Brazilian ichthyofauna is concentrated in the headwater streams.

The ichthyofauna differences between collecting stations or even between the aquatic habitats studied are related to the different abiotic gradients observed along the river; habitat diversity (Vannote et al. 1980, Johnson et al. 1995); the influence of current velocity and river size (Meffe and Sheldon 1988) depth and kind of substract (Bain et al. 1988) and waterland interface (Schlosser 1995). The amount of resources such as shelters, food and number of habitats contributes to emphasize differences between stations, thus influencing the structure of fish communities (Schreck and Moyle 1990), since each environment has its own characteristics (Barrela and Petrere 1994).

Besides the kind of environment (lotic or lentic) can influence fish abundance and distribution. Hoplias malabaricus, Hoplosternum litoralle, Oreochromis nilóticus, Astyanax fasciatus, Geophagus brasiliensis and Cyphocharax modestus were more abundant in lentic habitats than in lotic ones. These species prefer lagoons, reservoirs and backwaters (Britki 1972, Castro and Arcifa 1987), as rm01, so01 and so03 station. In counterpart Hypostomus margaritifer, Hypostomus ancistroides, Rineloricaria latirostris, Rhamdia quelen, Salminus hilarii, Pimelodus maculatus and Leporinus obtusidens prefer lotic habitats (Agostinho and Julio Jr. 1999). These species were more abundant in station with current as pi01, so02, so04 and ip03.


The authors wish to thank Carolina V. Minte-Vera, Antônio Carlos Beaumord for critically reading the manuscript, PUC-SP, UNESP-Rio Claro and USP-São Carlos for the logistic support. We also thank CNPq and FAPESP (Procces: 95/1311-0) for financial support.


Se realizó un análisis de las especies de peces de la cuenca del Río Sorocaba, el principal tributario de la margen izquierda del Río Tietê, localizado en el estado de Sao Paulo, Brasil. Las especies fueron recolectadas con redes agalleras. Luego de la identificación de los especímenes, fue determinada su abundancia relativa, peso, y longitud estandar. Hasta el presente, no hay ningún otro estudio que analice estos aspectos en dicha cuenca hidrográfica. Fueron recolectados 55 especies, distribuidas en 18 familias y 6 ordenes. Los Characiformes estuvieron representados por 28 especies, Siluriformes por 17 especies, Gymnotiformes por 3 especies, Perciformes y Cyprinodontiformes por 2 especies, y Synbranchiformes por una especie. Entre estas, se encontró 2 especies exóticas. Las especies más abundantes fueron Astyanax fasciatus y Hypostomus ancistroides. En relación con el peso total, la especie más representativas fueron Hoplias malabaricus y Hypostomus ancistroides. En tanto que, Cyprinus carpio, Prochilodus lineatus, Schizodon nasutus y Hoplias malabaricus fueron las más representativas en relación al preso promedio. Las longitudes estandar más grandes fue encontradas en Sternopygus macrurus, Steindachnerina insculpta, Eigenmannia aff. virescens y Cyprinus carpio.


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