Population recovery, seasonal site fidelity, and daily activity of pirarucu (Arapaima spp.) in an Amazonian floodplain mosaic

João Vitor Campos-Silva, Joseph E. Hawes, Carlos A. Peres

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Pirarucu (Arapaima spp.) are the world's largest scaled freshwater fish, reaching 3 m in length and >200 kg in weight. Historical overfishing has devastated populations of this remarkable fish across Amazonian floodplains, but community-based management programmes are now stimulating the recovery of wild populations. Pirarucu have evolved a unique set of life history traits, some of which have important implications for population management. Individuals exhibit lateral annual migration patterns during the prolonged annual flood pulse, entering flooded forests to reproduce and forage. During this period, although managed fish stocks become less monopolisable by local communities responsible for managing protected lakes, pirarucu can occupy and reproduce in new environments and thus potentially contribute to population recovery. Here, we show a strong pattern of pirarucu (Arapaima cf. gigas) population recovery under community-based management in an area along the Juruá River, in western Brazilian Amazonia. We show evidence of population recovery even outside formal protected areas, reinforcing the suitability of pirarucu community-based management as a powerful tool for both biodiversity conservation and the improvement of local livelihoods. We also show pirarucu movements across a floodplain mosaic—including lakes, the main river channel, tributary streams, and flooded forests—during the wet season. Our results support evidence of site fidelity among migrating pirarucu, justifying the high effort invested by local communities in seasonally protecting lakes from poachers and illegal fishers. Finally, restricted daily movement patterns by pirarucu support the suitability of population estimates based on day-time counts because the chance of double counting is substantially reduced during the day when these counts are conducted. We highlight the strong suitability of this species for community-based management, since they can: (1) replenish new environments during the wet season through migration and possibly also reproduction; and (2) be efficiently harvested during the dry season, delivering social and ecological benefits at large spatial scales. Positive examples of fisheries management, which align biodiversity conservation and social development, are important for building optimism, and influencing local and international stakeholders. Our study shows how engaging and empowering local communities to help monitor the movement ecology of target species can be an effective strategy to support the sustainable management of aquatic resources in tropical environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1255-1264
Number of pages10
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number7
Early online date10 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • community-based management
  • lateral migration
  • movement ecology
  • paiche
  • radio telemetry
  • sustainable fisheries

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