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Cow Urine Threatens Rare Cave Fish

Feb 10, 2015 02:39 PM EST
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Researchers have determined that a newly discovered cave-dwelling catfish is already in danger of becoming extinct, and the cause is not one you'd likely expect.

The fish, a new subterranean species of Ituglanis, was only found in the streams of two cave systems on the outskirts of the Mambaí municipality region in Brazil.

Called Ituglanis boticario, this new cave fish is less than four inches long (10 cm) and is easily identified by its exceptionally pale hue. Living underground, the species has little need for pigmentation to defend itself against the Sun's more harmful rays, and very likely slowly lost the trait over countless generations of evolution.

According to a study recently published in the Brazilian Zoological Society's journal Zoologia (Curitiba), while the tiny fish was found to be a top predator in these largely unstudied systems - feeding on insects and their larvae - they are facing extinction thanks to cow urine, of all things.

"The expansion of cattle ranching diminishes the environment's ability to drain water into the cavern, which reduces the available food and harms the species that live there," Maria Elina Bichuette, a scientist with the Federal University of Sao Carlos, explained to the Brazil Sun.

She added that what little water still drains into the cave system boasts dangerously high concentrations of ammonia, threatening the entire ecosystem that these rare fish live in.

And that could be a problem even for species in these caves that are unbothered by the ammonia. The rapid decline of the catfish, Bichuette and her colleagues explain, could heavily disrupt the balance of the cave systems' food chains, especially because these systems are so highly isolated from the rest of the world.

Cattle ranchers, of course, couldn't have seen this problem coming, especially since experts didn't even know that the species existed until last year. Still, more and more research is revealing how cows are more of an "invasive species" than we thought, and need to be more carefully managed.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS.

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