All Catfish Species Inventory (ACSI)
Proposal Title: Planetary Biodiversity Inventory: ALL CATFISH SPECIES (SILURIFORMES)

Submitted 10 January 2003
National Science Foundation, Division of Environmental Biology, Biodiversity Inventories & Surveys Program

PI: Larry M. Page — Florida Museum of Natural History & Illinois Natural History Survey
Co-PIs (alphabetical order)
Jonathan W. Armbruster — Auburn University
Carl J. Ferraris, Jr. Florida Museum of Natural History
John P. Friel — Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates
John G. Lundberg — Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
Mark H. Sabaj — Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia


Intellectual Merit: An All Catfish Species Inventory (ACSI) is proposed as Phase I of a long- term PBI of the Otophysi, the largest clade of freshwater fishes. The inventory is expected to result in the discovery and description of up to 1,750 new species of catfishes and, ultimately, in the description of between 2,300 and 4,600 new species of freshwater fishes. It will result in the completed taxonomy of a globally diverse taxon, Siluriformes, and later in the completed taxonomy of Otophysi, the clade containing over two-thirds of all freshwater fishes.

Products of ACSI will include a completed taxonomy of catfishes with up-to-date identification guides, atlases, catalogues and checklists of species, phylogenetic studies of higher-level relationships among catfishes and an improved predictive classification, large samples of freshwater fishes from poorly collected regions added to permanent collections in U.S. and foreign institutions, and enhanced international communication among fish taxonomists. The project's website <> and electronic mail listserver will continue after the grant period for dissemination of ACSI data and products, and provide for communication among taxonomists about research, educational and outreach opportunities.

ACSI will be authoritative and rapid because it concerns organisms of immediate interest to its many participants. Further, ACSI will set the stage for the continuing inventory of other otophysans with an established international network of senior and newly trained systematists, new and well documented museum collections, identification of gaps in the global freshwater survey, and the framework for documentation, analysis and delivery of large amounts of information on specimens, taxonomy, phylogeny and freshwater biodiversity.

Broader Impacts: The training of students and postdoctoral associates is a vital part of this project. Fifty-eight students (47 of them in foreign countries) interested in participating in ACSI have been identified. In addition, funding is requested for 26.5 years of support for graduate students and 9 years of support for post-doctoral associates at the PIs’ institutions. Students and postdoctoral fellows will work closely with senior taxonomists in field and museum work, including manuscript preparation. PIs will strive to increase the number of minority and female students in the project through active recruitment. REU supplements will be requested to involve undergraduates in museum research and fieldwork. Among the PIs are one first-time NFS- funded investigator (Sabaj), and three young investigators (Friel, Ph.D. in 1995; Armbruster, 1997; and Sabaj, 2002).

Outreach activities will include the ACSI website, presentations at scientific and other public meetings, and capitalizing on opportunities to develop public museum exhibits and to publish popular articles on freshwater biodiversity. An exceptional feature of ACSI is the large number of taxonomists and students (N = 201 from 31 counties) who will participate in the project. Many of the collaborators have worked together in the past, but ACSI will foster new research and educational initiatives.

Knowing all species and higher-level relationships in a clade as diverse and widespread as catfishes will offer unprecedented follow-up research opportunities in evolution, ecology and organismal biology. Research will include studies in descriptive systematics, phylogenetics, historical biogeography and comparative biology.

Freshwater ecosystems comprise less than 0.01% of Earth's total water volume. Degradation of freshwater ecosystems is severe in many parts of the world, and aquatic species are among the most endangered. Conservation biologists and fisheries managers depend on accurate taxonomies and museum collection records for prioritizing areas for protection and for making informed species-specific management policies. ACSI's fieldwork will provide for direct interaction between in-situ conservation and resource managers and expert taxonomists. In addition to its overall improvement of taxonomy, ACSI will enhance the accuracy and extent of museum collection records of catfishes by expert identification and georeferencing of associated locality data.

Because of their worldwide familiarity, catfishes are an ideal inaugural clade for PBI and will help make this project a cynosure for inventories and taxonomic work to follow.


National Science Foundation Biotic Surveys & Inventories Program
• Catfishes as an obvious choice
- highly diverse clade of fishes with a worldwide distribution in fresh and marine waters
- under investigation by a large number of scientists
- large number of undescribed species
- important ecologically and economically
- extraordinarily interesting organisms

"All Species"?
•"All species in five years" means "almost all, most, the vast majority"
• A large number of unknown species will be discovered and described
• A large number of additional specimens of fishes, not just catfishes, will be collected and made available for study
• A great deal will be learned about biodiversity, biogeography, areas of high diversity and endemism,

Products will include:
• Descriptions of many new species of catfishes
• A website devoted to catfish diversity that will include a classification of catfishes, digital images of type-specimens coupled with live or well-preserved specimens, identification keys, distribution maps, a searchable bibliography of literature, and information on the project’s participants
• An electronic mail listserver to facilitate communication among catfish taxonomists
• New collections of catfishes (and many other fishes) from locations where undescribed species are likely to be found
• The training of students and postdoctoral associates in catfish taxonomy and systematics

Funding will be available for:
• Rapid peer-reviewed publication of species descriptions at no publication cost to authors or their institutions
• Travel to institutions housing collections of fishes
• Fieldwork in areas likely to contain large numbers of undescribed catfishes
• Support for students, postdocs, technical assistance
• Workshops

The ACSI Website is based at