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New genus of electric fish found in remote area of South America

  |   Sept. 26, 2013 at 4:55 PM
TORONTO, Sept. 26 (UPI) -- A new genus of electric fish was identified in a remote region of South America, an international team of researchers said.

The Akawaio penak, a thin, eel-like electric fish, was discovered in the shallow, murky waters of the upper Mazaruni River in northern Guyana, the University of Toronto-Scarborough said in a release this week.

Professor Nation Lovejoy's team at the University of Toronto-Scarborough analyzed tissue samples collected during a recent expedition by a team of researchers led by Hernan Lopez-Fernandez at the Royal Ontario Museum.

By sequencing its DNA and reconstructing an evolutionary tree, Lovejoy's team discovered the fish that is so distinct it represents a new genus, the university said.

"The fact this area is so remote and has been isolated for such a long time means you are quite likely to find new species," Lovejoy said.

The upper Mazaruni River, a hot spot for biological diversity, remains largely unexplored because of its remote location, the university said Tuesday in its release. The area contains countless rivers on top of uplands that have remained isolated from the rest of South America for more than 30 million years.

The Akawaio penak, named in honor of the Akawaio Amerindians that populate the upper Mazaruni, has a long organ running along the base of the body that produces an electric field, researchers said. While the electric field is too weak to stun prey, it is used to navigate, detect objects and to communicate with other electric fish.

"The Mazaruni contains many unique species that aren't found anywhere else in the world," Lovejoy said. "It's an extremely important area in South America in terms of biodiversity."

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