A fish species believed to have vanished from the North Sea has made a remarkable comeback, defying earlier claims of extinction. The houting, which had been officially classified as extinct in 2008, is now found to be alive and thriving, according to research conducted by the University of Amsterdam and the Natural History Museum in London.
Mistaken Extinction Status
In 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species officially categorized the houting as extinct based on morphological analysis of its gill rakers and snout shape. This led to the belief that what was previously thought to be houting (Coregonus oxyrinchus) were, in fact, a separate species known as European whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus).
Researchers had long assumed differences in snout length and gill raker counts distinguished these two species. However, this recent study used DNA analysis to challenge this notion.
Rob Kroes, from the University of Amsterdam’s Department of Freshwater and Marine Ecology, emphasized the difficulty of accurately distinguishing between species, especially in the case of fish with variations in morphological traits.
DNA Analysis Confirms the Houting’s Survival
The research team isolated mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from historical houting specimens, including one dating back to 1754. This mtDNA analysis revealed that houting (C. oxyrinchus) and European whitefish (C. lavaretus) are part of the same species. As a result, the houting is not extinct, and its official Latin name may need to be adjusted.
The findings present a complex situation as the protected status of various coregonids remains unclear. While the IUCN has declared the North Sea houting as extinct, various European nature laws demand the protection of both houting and European whitefish, even though they are genetically similar.
The research highlights the challenges in accurately assessing species’ status and emphasizes the importance of using DNA analysis in taxonomy and conservation efforts.