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Why Fish?

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Gerry Closs ACA party650Inaugural Professorial Lecture

Professor Gerry Closs, Department of Zoology

Freshwater scientist and Catchment Otago Co-director, Professor Gerry Closs is ranked in the top 50 researchers worldwide for the number of citations produced in his field. During his expansive career, he has supervised over 40 PhD candidates and close to 90 student projects – quite staggering; and reassuring when you stop to think about the number of students who have benefited from his expertise in this increasingly important research area.

Born in Tunbridge, England, Professor Closs’ love of Ecology probably goes right back to his many voyages across the ocean – from his original homeland, to far reaching places such as the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, and back again, numerous times – all under the age of 14- years.

Did you know that there are over 30,000 different fish species in our oceans, rivers and lakes? No? Then quite possibly, you will be surprised to learn that this equates, roughly, to the same number of every other non-fish vertebrate animal species: birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians (approximately 33,000) on the planet.

You may be equally surprised to know that half of our fish species are fresh water.

We learned that there are such large numbers of fish species because they have their own contrasting habitats with different demands, and they become isolated within their own environment with limited movement along streams and other waterways.

“Although the most diverse groups of vertebrates, they are also amongst the most threatened,” said Professor Closs.

Retelling his research in the field, Professor Closs took the audience on a journey upstream and back, weaving a fascinating story of “big fish in small ponds”; emphasising that size does matter when it comes to the food chain of freshwater vertebrates. He explained that large fish are nocturnal, feeding only at night; what happened when the largest fish were removed; and how eventually, the next largest took the upper hand, becoming the Big Fish… now we also know where that analogy came from.

Most thought-provoking, was being shown a piece of artwork by famous 1620s Flemish painter, Frans Snyders, portraying a wonderful array of seafood, clearly caught very close to the Antwerp fish market. Of course very few of the varieties depicted will be found anywhere near this location today; in fact, some are now extinct, highlighting the plight of our underwater friends, and the importance of conservation in this field.

The title of Professor Closs’ Inaugural Professorial Lecture was Why Fish? I believe we left asking ourselves Why Not Fish?

Professor Gerry Closs is Head of the Department of Zoology, and researches and teaches animal diversity, freshwater ecology and fish biology. His research has specifically focused on the stream food webs, estuarine ecology, and the conservation, ecology, bioenergetics and evolution of life histories of freshwater fish.

If you would like to learn more about Professor Closs’s research, take a look at his book, Conservation of Freshwater Fishes. Closs, GP, Krkosek, M & Olden JD. (eds.) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

For more information, contact:

Professor Gerry Closs
Department of Zoology