With more than 50,000 nominal and about 34,200 valid species, fishes are the largest group of vertebrates. There are more fish species than species of all other vertebrates combined.
Fish-like vertebrates inhabit earth since more than 450 million years, and they are far older than dinosaurs. They developed a tremendous variety of body shapes and succeeded in colonizing almost any aquatic habitat from streams high up in the mountains to the greatest depths of the oceans. Too many ecosystems they contribute most of the animal biomass and they are of outstanding economic importance.
The Ichthyology Section (”ichthys“= Greek “fish”) deals with the scientific study of fishes and fish-like vertebrates, including bony fishes (Osteichthyes), cartilaginous fishes (Chondrichthyes) and jawless fishes (Agnatha). Taxonomic and systematic studies focus on selected taxa, and comparative morphology is complemented by molecular genetic studies on phylogeny and population genetics, ecology and biogeography. Research includes freshwater and marine fishes. The major geographic focus of current research at the Ichthyology Section is the Arabian Seas Region and freshwater bodies of the Middle East and of Northern Africa, regions that have already been studied by the founder of the section, Eduard Rüppell, during the first half of the 19th century.
At the Senckenberg Research Institute and Museum of Nature research on fishes (ichthyology) has a long tradition. It goes back to Frankfurt’s famous explorer Eduard Rüppell, who founded the fish section and served as its first curator 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 early years, 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 much of his time 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 this field of research. 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 (1933-2002) and his collaborators gained outstanding importance.
When W. Klausewitz (1922-2018) retired in 1987 he had made significant contributions to international ichthyology and he remained an active research scientist until shortly before his death. In the same year, Friedhelm Krupp took over as the new head of the fish section. Under him, systematics and zoogeography of fishes in the North-western Indian Ocean and adjacent semi-enclosed sea areas, which had been initiated by E. Rüppell and continued under W. Klausewitz, remained the section’s research focus. Systematics and zoogeography of Middle Eastern freshwater fishes was added. Between 1991 and 2002 F. Krupp was released for service in international organizations (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. From 2011 to 2017, F. Krupp served as the director of the Qatar Museum of Nature and Science. During this period Tilman Alpermann was 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.