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The aquatic fauna that arrived at a wish of a king

A new study led by the Doñana Biological Station reviews archival sources and other historical documents to reconstruct the motivations and actions leading to fish and crayfish introductions into the Iberian Peninsula.  The information provided by these historical documents brings insights into the long-term progress of biological invasions, needed to understand the different phases of this phenomenon.

Biological invasions are an important global change driver and it is originated in the introduction of organisms in place where they did not exist. Along with the increasing and acceleration of transport around the world, the introduction of species has not stopped growing. "But it does not make us believe that introductions are a modern phenomenon. In fact, they happened for millennia", says Miguel Clavero, a researcher at the Doñana Biological Station – CSIC and author of the study. For instance, Polynesians transported rats into Pacific islands, the Aztecs imported different bird species from distant regions and the African porcupine was introduced to Italy about 1,500 years ago. "Ancient introductions are hard to look into, but we have a good documental archive to describe them in some cases", explains the researcher. This is the case of the introductions carried out in the 16th century in the Court of Philip II of Spain.

During his travels as an heir prince, King Philip II was fascinated with the central European gardening and decided to adopt them in the royal properties, the Sitios Reales.  The king ordered the removal of productive plants and their substitution by purely ornamental elements, as well as the construction of water systems that included ponds, channels, fountains and reservoirs "in a Flanders way", which were settled with the most popular aquatic species in central Europe, many of which were naturally absent from Iberia. The abundant documentation generated by Philip II's administration and conserved at Spanish and foreign archives allow reconstruct these introductions of aquatic fauna with a quite spatial-temporal precision, as this newly study published in the journal Fish and Fisheries shows. 

The beginning 

Several documents dated between 1562 and 1563 show the beginning of the court management to import carps, pikes and crayfish, from either Flandes (discarded because of a hard logistic) or France. In 1564, two independent expeditions were sent to Bayonne to bring fish for the royal ponds. In the first attempt to transport the fish, snowstorms forced the expedition to stop in the city of Burgos, where 8 carps and 28 pikes were stocked in a pond of the Saint John's Monastery, constituting the first known introduction event of those species into Spain. A second attempt succeeded in transporting 39 alive pikes into the Casa de Campo in February 1565. The carps had died during the expedition, so the expedition was sent again to the French border. Two months later, the expeditioners returned to the Casa de Campo with six carps and two tenches.

These expeditions were not able to bring crayfish from Bayonne and several documents mention the intention of getting them in Bordeaux. However, that importation did not happen. In 1565, Felipe II had acquired carps and pikes, but any crayfish. The Court interest in getting this species was reactivated two decades later, at least since 1583, with efforts directed towards the Tuscany of the Medici. The letters conserved described the "great pleasure" with which Philip II would receive those crayfish. The shipment eventually took place in 1588, when "several barrels of crayfish" shipped from Livorno to Alicante, and then to the Sitios Reales. The letter stated that the crayfish were in charge of a person who knew how to "keep them alive for three months". "This Tuscan origin of the Iberian crayfish, which we curiously called "natives", perfectly fits with the genetical identity of the populations of both regions. constituting one single group", explains Miguel Clavero.

The establishment

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The study shows that, although the pike introduction was initially successful, in establishing populations, the species was not able to do it in the long term. Thus, at the beginning of the 18th century, Felipe V once again imported pike from Bayonne to the Royal Sites, but with the same results. The current present of pikes in Spain initiated in the introduction made by the Franco administration in 1949 into the Aranjuez ponds, again in the Sitios Reales. The carp did seem to establish since the first royal introduction and, at the end of the 16th century, the species was present in other nobility palaces associated with the Court. The carp expansion was slow in Spain, probably because it was not generally appreciated as food. The species didn't have a large distribution until the 20th century. This newly study also indicates that the transit of Italian crayfish from a court exclusive item to a popular fishery piece was apparently slow and has not been well documented yet.

"The documents reviewed in this work had been studied previously, but probably by people who did not give much importance to the identity of the species. On the other hand, those who study aquatic biodiversity were unaware or did not value the information stored in historical archives", explains researcher Miguel Clavero. For this reason, the article points out the need to develop interdisciplinary studies. The information generated by different scientific fields will allow knowing and describing complex processes and events, including biological invasions, but also the variation of natural systems and biodiversity. This kind of studies can provide a crucial long-term knowledge to assess the magnitude of global change. 

 


Reference:

Miguel Clavero. The King's aquatic desires: 16th-century fish and cryfish introductions into Spain. Fish and Fisheries. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/faf.12680


https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/faf.12680