With more than 50,000 nominal and about 25,000 valid species, fishes are the largest group of vertebrates. They developed a tremendous variety of body shapes and succeeded in colonising almost any aquatic habitat from streams high up in the mountains to the greatest depths of the ocean. To many ecosystems they contribute most of the animal biomass and they are of outstanding economic importance. At the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum research on fishes (ichthyology) has a long tradition. It goes back to Frankfurt’s famous explorer Eduard Rüppell, who founded the fish section and was its first head from 1827 to 1862. After his retirement no full-time ichthyologist was employed and other scientists took care of the fish collections besides their regular duties. In 1954 Wolfgang Klausewitz was put in charge of the fish section and the presence of a full-time scientist had a very positive effect on research activities and the growth of the collections. In the beginning he focused on the study of fishes collected during cruises by the research vessels Xarifa and Meteor to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. As of 1970 he dedicated several years to the assessment of fish populations in the lower Main River, a tributary of the Rhine River. In 1974 Anton Lelek, Head of the newly founded Section “Ichthyology II and Fish Ecology”, took over the management of this project. At a time when pollution of Germany’s water bodies reached maximum levels and certain sections of streams were regarded as biologically dead, the ecological research of A. Lelek and his collaborators gained outstanding importance.
When W. Klausewitz retired in 1987 he had made a significant contribution to international ichthyology and he remains an active research scientist. Friedhelm Krupp took over as the new Head of the fish section. Under him, fish systematics and zoogeography in the North-western Indian Ocean and adjacent semi-enclosed seas, which had been initiated by E. Rüppell and continued under W. Klausewitz, remained the focal area of research. Systematics and zoogeography of Middle Eastern freshwater fishes was added as a new field. Research activities in these areas continued between 1991 and 2001 when F. Krupp was seconded to international organisations (European Union and United Nations). During this period Christian Köhler, Franz Uiblein, Susanne Wernet, Volker Niem, Uwe Zajonz, Michael Gudo and Jens Stecher were successively in charge of the fish section.
After A. Lelek retired in 1998, the two fish sections fused and Egbert Korte continued with ecological research on European freshwater fishes.
Eduard Rüppell founded the fish section in 1827.