Biotopes of Spain| The biotope of the Samaruc and the Fartet

Marcelo Fernandez Biotope, Conservation Leave a Comment

The family Cyprinodontidae, widely distributed in Africa and America, has only three representations in the Iberian fauna, namely, Valencia Hispanica (Valenciennes, 1826) or “Samaruc”, Aphanius Iberus (Valenciennes, 1846) or “Fartet” and finally the Aphanius baeticus (Doadrios, Carmona & Fernández-Delgado, 2002) or “Salinete”; in this article we will focus ourselves on the first two species.

We could say that the emotional charge of this biotope is impressive, two species in a small region so abused in the past that nowadays great efforts are made to avoid their extinctions; in all honesty, being able to see these small fish in their natural environment has taken me to the edge of tears when I think about that. I never imagined that I could get to see them in their natural habitat, but luckily there are people working hard to conserve these two small species of Spanish Killifish in order that they remain on this less and less resistant planet called Earth.

L´Albufera de Valencia:

Poster of L’Albufera Natural Park of Valencia


An Albufera is a brackish or saltwater lagoon next to the sea that is isolated by a cordon of sand. This type of habitat usually has intermittent interaction with the sea at one or more locations and so can be variable and somewhat irregular in its nature.

Years ago as a child, I had read about these fish and had extreme difficulty in finding information about them. I enjoyed studying them, reviewing my library and searching the internet for an organisation or place where work was being done on these two species of cyprinodontids and I planned one day to make a trip to visit their biotope, L’Albufera de Valencia.

Nowadays L’Albufera de Valencia is a Spanish Natural Park located in the province of Valencia and as such it is also a place of recreation for those who escape from the city and seek to be in a natural environment. Here they offer boat rides, kayaking, bike rides, observation stations for birds and other animals and there are many restaurants; it is a place of ongoing imbalance between human development and nature.

There are also the rural inhabitants who over the years took over this Valencian region. These former rice growers and farmers, which until this day still continue with their work, were those that initiated the displacement (without realizing) of these beautiful cyprinodontids. The main cause of this displacment and gradual decline was the permanent addition of pesticides and fertilisers to the crops. In combination with land manipulation this anthropogenic activity brought with it a lowering of the quality of the water and an increase in nitrates, phosphates and other pollutants.

Another big problem is man’s mania to introduce exotic species. In the 1960s, Gambusia holbrooki and Fundulus heteroclitus were introduced to this habitat in order to counter the proliferation of the mosquito and tackle malaria after a worldwide scare campaign; this was a recurrent action worldwide during that period.

The lake used to be a regular source of fish for consumption by people until the industrialisation of the area resulted in the degradation of water quality. One interesting and beneficial aspect of human activity in this area came from the cultivation of rice, the fields of which not only provide important economic benefits for people but also have turned out to provide vital ecological services to this ecosystem by contributing significantly to the purification of the lakes associated waters where native fish species are able to still survive to this day.

Having fished in the permitted area, it was shocking to see first-hand the presence of the non native species which have completely displaced the native fishes in most areas; here we see American Crayfish Procambarus clarkii, and Gambusia holdbrooki.

A final note on non-native introductions; in the 1980’s, a fish farm for the reproduction and release of exotic species was created for the lovers of Sport Fishing. It was mainly focused around reproduction of the great predator Black Bass (Micropterus salmoides). Interestingly, today that same fish farm that raised Black bass for sport fishing is what today houses Samarucs and Fartets, in their breeding rafts. The organisation even fights against those invasive species mentioned which are very established in those waters nowadays, being practically impossible to eradicate (an eternally losing struggle).

El Palmar Fish Farm:

Fish Research Center

It really was incredible to me that the very same place that was previously in charge of introducing non-native fishes today is the one that is in charge of eradicating them and replicating and re-introducing the natives. Luckily, people like Antonio Pradillo (who looked after us very well at the fish farm) showed us the facilities and explained how it works and what the main objectives were.

Antonio, very kindly received us and explained the objectives of the Fish Research Center.

Nowadays they are mainly dedicated to the breeding and reinsertion of several populations of Hispanic Valencia and Aphanius iberus. Importantly, they separate them by populations from different places, this is crucial to maintain genetic integrity and not influence the natural evolution; however some populations are already extinct.

Male of Aphanius iberus (Valenciennes, 1846)

Male of Valencia hispanica (Valenciennes, 1826)

These populations have been genetically identified with DNA research and thanks to this research it was even discovered that the aquarists had carelessly introduced the native cyprinodontids without paying attention to the population origins and created a problem of cross-breeding between populations. This has created an extra problem by tainting the genetic purity of some of the populations and not preserving the original genes. One of the main places where this happened was precisely in Valencia and at the time in Catalonia. (many of these populations have been mixed but luckily not all of them thrived)

The tanks are separated with the name of each population to maintain the pure genetic quality of each biotope.

The problem of preserving the genetic integrity of these species, Antonio told us, is extremely important to maintain the purity of the different populations and this must be preserved urgently, perhaps this data is complex for us aquarists but it is good to learn and know it and not fall into the temptation of “wanting to save a species” but then achieving the exact opposite. It had even been thought for some time that some populations were natural until genetic studies determined that they were reintroduced by individuals (or mixed). That is why I emphasize that scientists are the ones indicated for these works and we, the aquarists, can always collaborate with them, contributing our experience in various aspects but always following their advice and suggestions when making these types of decisions.

A Valencia hispanica breeding tank of one of the populations in recovery.

Antonio told us that today they are using water from L’Albufera itself, filtered and conditioned for the development of all species raised in the fish farm, including the Spanish cyprinodontids. Water that in previous years contained large amounts of nitrates and phosphates but nowadays is of somewhat better quality, although these pollutants are still high.

Years ago the boats could not navigate through the large amounts of aquatic plants and amphibians in the area, the boats even had to make “corridors” for navigation, but then in the 1980s this vegetation disappeared and the proliferation of algae increased dramatically developing into extremely large quantities, this was due to the increase of the two elements used in the crops around the main lagoon (phosphates and nitrates); today the natural plant population is being restored very slowly and many of them are produced and replanted via the fish farm.

Now here’s an important anecdote: a few years ago, one of the filters of the outdoor reproduction pools had captured a black bass fry (Micropterus salmoides) which had gone undetected. When it could be identified (by realising it had grown significantly larger than the other fish) it was discovered that it had already eaten about two thousand Samaruc! Not to mention tadpoles and snails.

This demonstrates that “today” invasive species present themselves as the main enemy of these two beautiful Spanish native cyprinodontids; it is as much the predators (Black Bass) as the competitors for the food as Gambusia sp. and Fundulus sp. The fartet (Aphanius iberus) has a little more advantage due to its tolerance to large concentrations of dissolved salts (like any Aphanius) habitats where the Gambusia can not progress, but as soon as the parameters are matched the Gambusia soon infiltrate.

Aphanius Iberus female in aquarium of the fish farm.

Another major problem that was determined by the studies of Mario Planelles and Pilar Risueño is the overexploitation of the aquifers of the area, diverting them for irrigation or extracting their waters, drying them up; this process even annihilated an entire population in the months of extreme summer heat (June to September).

Female of Hispanic Valencia (Valenciennes, 1826)

Fatal conclusion:

  • Over exploitation of agricultural activity transforming land
  • Contamination of water with waste and fertilizers (nitrates and phosphates).
  • Water extraction for irrigation.
  • Introduction of exotic species.

Some of the species that are trying to save in the El Palmar fish farm are:

  • Valencia hispanica (Valenciennes, 1826)
  • Aphanius iberus (Valenciennes, 1846)
  • Cobitis taenia (Linnaeus, 1758)
  • Salaria fluviatilis (Asso, 1801)
  • Galapagos leprous
  • Pleurodeles walti

Among other important for Spain and humanity.

Poster of the fish farm “El Palmar where you can see the breeding rafts of Valencia hispanica.

Some important data of these two European Cyprinodontids:

In the area of ​​the Iberian Peninsula perhaps there are not many species but it is rich in endemism, with abundant species of limited geographical distribution. For example, in the north of the Mediterranean, 50% of the taxa of endemic fish are found in a lake or in several lakes in the same country. (Ana González, Victoria Fernandez Pedrosa and Amparo Latorre). By this they mean that because they are so small, the habitats of these species are in danger of extinction due to various delicate factors.

Males from Valencia hispánica

In the case of Spain these two cyprinodontids (two of the three representatives of the killifish in Spain) previously named are in different lists and national and international protection regulations. These fish, for example, had disappeared completely from Catalonia in 1991 (García Berthou and Moreno Amich, 1991), where for example it was abundant in Prat de Llobegrat (Gibert 1913) and Delta del Ebro (Lozano-Rey 1919) and in many more places in Spain and France. (more info in “Iberian Fartet and Samaruc ciprinodontids fish”, Monograph, Generalitat Valenciana, Consellería medio ambiente.

Males of both species of Spanish killifish.

  • Declared “Endangered Species” in the Red List of Vertebrates of Spain (ICONA, 1986)
  • Red book of vertebrates of Spain (Blanco and González, 1992); “Species in Danger of Extinction”
  • “Protected Species” in the National Catalog of Endangered Species, Royal Decree 439/1990 (BOE 5.4.90) and
  • “Species of general interest whose conservation requires the designation of special areas for their conservation” in the Annex II of the Directive of the Council of the European Union on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora (Directive 92/43 / CEF, Fauna – Flora – Habitats)
  • Global category IUCN (2006): Critically Endangered CR A2ace. It is included in this category because its populations have reduced more than 80% in the last ten years due to the loss of habitat, agricultural contamination and the interaction with invasive species.
  • Category Spain IUCN (2002): Endangered B1 + 2abcde (Doadrio, 2002).

The main threat factors are the loss of habitat (agriculture, anthropogenic activity) and competition with the Gambusia holbrooki, invasive species of small size introduced in the Iberian Peninsula at the beginning of the XX century with the objective of controlling malaria, since it includes larvae mosquito in your diet.

This species is protected by the State Law 12/2006, it is also mentioned in Annex II of the Bern Convention 82/72 for the conservation of wildlife and in Annex II of the Habitats Directive 43/92 EEC that includes the species of community interest for which special conservation areas must be established

“Samaruc” or Hispanic Valencia:

Valencia hispanica (Valenciennes, 1826)

This is perhaps the emblematic fish of Spain when we talk about the danger of extinction and is in “Critical Hazard” for the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). The truth is that the beauty of this small Killi is impressive and the habitat is also, being a restricted area naturally small since it is found only in a part of the Valencian community and regions of Murcia both very affected by pollution. Formerly it was distributed in Catalonia and reached the south of the Mediterranean coast of France. Today its habitat is very reduced.

It is an euryhaline fish that lives near the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, originally it was found in the marshes and Ullals of the coastal areas of the eastern part of the Iberian Peninsula.

“The interaction with the gambusia is one of the main factors that caused the decline of the populations of Samaruc. The main mechanism of interaction between these two species is the non-aggressive competition for food resources, being that the Samaruc presents competitive skills inferior to those of the gambusia, especially when it comes to levels of satiety and voracity. This negative interaction is all the more intense the higher the gambusia / samaruc ratio. The presence of gambusia causes inhibition of the feeding rate and negatively interferes with the reproductive behavior. “(Caiola, Nuno Institut de Recerca i Tecnologia Agroalimentâries, Ctra. De Poble Nou, Km 5.5, E-43540 Sant Carles de la Ràpita, Tarragona ).

“Fartet” or Aphanius Iberus:

When we talk about the Fartet we are talking about a less frequent cyprinodontid in the little region that once knew how to cover, as the Samaruc its habitat is being destroyed by anthropic action although the Spanish Government has also taken seriously the situation of this small vertebrate that next to the Samaruc (Hispanic Valencia) is being studied and replaced in certain biotopes in which the water characteristics allow it.

Male Fartet displaying all its colors.

In the case of the Fartet we can add to what is commonly known of this beautiful Aphanius that is a ubiquitous fish, that is, that adapts and distributes in several different types of habitats (very different from the Samaruc that is more specific) finding it in places of fresh water to waters with large concentrations of salts such as 57.2 ° / 00 (Lozano – Cabo 1960). This helps that it has not yet become extinct since the competition with other introduced species such as Gambusia Sp. (Introduced to combat the mosquito in the ’60s) or the Black Bass, (Micropterus salmoides), great predator introduced in the 80s for sport fishing, which does not resist such brackish water, makes the Aphanius Iberus win place in the areas closest to the sea, losing much ground in less brackish water. It has been detected that it prefers areas colonized by the plant Salicornia ramossisima feeding on an omnivorous diet mainly benthic microcrustaceans, copepods and antipodes although the season varies from winter to chironomids, vegetables and even ditritus. (María José Vargas and Adolfo de Sostoa)

Visit of its natural habitat:

Some of the places recovered by “EL Palmar” and all its staff from Parc Natural L’Albufera in Valencia is the Ullal del Baldoví. (Ullal de Prop also) in Sueca in Valencia and within the Natural Park.

But what is a Ullal? A Ullal is a freshwater coastal wetland that is supplied with groundwater that surface to the surface, are relatively close to the sea with certain animals that inhabit them, are a delicate ecosystem. The scientists of the Natural Park L’Albufera have taken part in them to conserve the species of Spanish Cyprinodontids due to their excellent water quality and because they are not yet occupied by the invasive species due to their isolation from the channels of the rest of the L’Albufera.

View of the Ullal de Baldoví, where the Valencia hispanica are. There are no words, an oasis of killis!

I can assure you that the difference in water between the Ullal and the channels connected to the Albufera is atrocious and the intact biotope is a unique and fantastic place where the Samaruc swim in small groups of about 8 to 12 fish near the surface between the characteristic pastures; it truly is an oasis for the last fishes of their kind.

Here you can see some swimming near the surface in their natural biotope.

Underwater photo of the Samaruc biotope where the pasture and the Ullal bed can be seen.

A few meters from this paradise of Spanish killifish, the infected irrigation canals of Gambusia holbroodki and Fundulus heteroclitus separated by two-meter high earth walls surround the Ullal, waiting for the moment to start the invasive attack against any failure of these built walls. to save the Samaruc and the Fartet.

Other Recovery Programs of some of these two species:

Recovery Program of the Fartet (Aphanius Iberus (Lebias Iberus) Valenciennes 1846) in the National Park of DOÑANA. (Luis Dominguez Nevado and Pablo Pereira Sieso).

“The Fartet population of the Doñana National Park began to decline and was reduced to a single enclave where it remained in a critical situation coinciding with the presence of non-native species such as Gambusia holbrooki and Fundulus heteroclitus. To avoid the total extinction of this population, a recovery program was launched, including a captive stock and monitoring of the wild nucleus. The diversification of the captive nucleus in several refuges depends on the verification of its genetic status. “(Luis Dominguez Nevado and Pablo Pereira Sieso, Doñana National Park,” El Acebuche “administrative center, 21760 Matalascañas, Huelva)

In 1994 it was decided to rescue specimens from the Laguna del Hondón in order to build a refuge population with the immediate objective of safeguarding the species within the Park while conserving its genetic load. 283 copies were rescued (just a complicated time since it was autumn but they did not advise at another time). When the work began, the number of these specimens was 83, and this number of fish was very low to conserve the genetic variability (García – Marín & Pla). The quantitative tests were carried out in aquariums of 120 liters and pools of 1000 liters, obtaining These trials included about 827 juveniles of which 312 were released in June 1995 in a pond of about 185,000 liters along with 30 adults from Laguna del Hondón. Today (date of 1997) 5000 specimens are kept in the artificial pond.

Recovery Plan of the Fartet in Andalusia. (R. Pintos, J.C. Gutierrez-Estrada, M. Torralva, F.J. Oliva and C. Fernández-Delgado)

In Andalusia the works began in 1994 with the signing of the cooperation agreement between the Ministry of Environment of the Junta de Andalucía and the University of Córdoba entitled “Location, conservation stage and recovery plan for populations of Lebias Iberus (Aphanius Iberus ) in the Autonomous Community of Andalusia “. This action constituted the first recovery plan for a fish species in the Andalusian Community.

This plan consisted of 4 phases:

1st Phase: Dissemination of the project and information gathering.
Contact associations and entities informing about the project. Search bibliographic information, search for populations and search for favorable habitats, level of legal protection of water courses where populations are located.

2nd Phase: Study.
Geographic model of genetic variation of the species in Andalusian territory. Study of the Biotope, State of Conservation of each localized population and its problems.

3rd Phase: Acting.
Captive breeding. Improvement of the habitat eliminating allochthonous species, sanitation of the coasts and channels, treatment of discharges. Translocations, reintroductions, population reinforcement. Public awareness campaign.

4th Phase: Follow-up.
Surveillance of existing populations. Surveillance of introduced populations. Profoundness in the biological and ecological characteristics of the different populations.

Thank you for this adventure in search of the “Fartet” and “Samaruc”.


“Peces Ciprinodóntidos Ibéricos Fartet y Samaruc”, Monografía, Generalitat Valenciana, Consellería medio ambiente.

Crivelli, A.J. (2006). «Valencia hispanica». Lista Roja de especies amenazadas de la UICN 2016-3 (en inglés). Consultado el 27 de febrero de 2017.

Caiola, N. (2010). Estat de les poblacions de dos endemismes ibèrics: el fartet i el samaruc. Pp. 19-20. En: Història Natural dels Països Catalans: Peixos (suplement). Enciclopèdia Catalana, Barcelona.

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