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Researchers discover new variant of Sri Lankan aquarium fish

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by Ifham Nizam

A new variant of a popular Sri Lankan aquarium fish has been discovered by local and foreign researchers.

The freshwater fish, genus Rasbora, (commonly called ‘dandiya’) is one of the most diverse groups of freshwater fishes in tropical Asia.

In Sri Lanka, previous studies have shown that there are five species (Rasbora dandia, R. microcephalus, R. wilpita, R. naggsi, and R. armitagei) of which the last three are endemic to the island. This diversity is remarkable when compared with peninsular India, which is about 25 times the size of Sri Lanka but contain only four species of Rasbora.

Biologists earlier believed there were only five varieties of the popular aquarium fish endemic to Sri Lanka. However, with the discovery of the sixth species, Rasbora has gained a new reputation among Sri Lankan freshwater fish breeders, hobbyists and harvesters.

The researchers carried out multiple analysis using “finer geographic sampling and greater sample sizes”, thereby corroborating the validity of six species of Rasbora (scientifically called as ‘Cyprinidae’) in Sri Lanka.

The team of researchers have combed a sampling of 90 sites across Sri Lanka to identify the new species. The team consisting of Hiranya Sudasinghe of Evolutionary Ecology and Systematics Lab, Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, University of Peradeniya, Rohan Pethiyagoda of Ichthyology Section, Australian Museum, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Ranasinghe Hettiarachchige Tharindu Ranasinghe of Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka, Malwana, Rajeev Raghavan of Department of Fisheries Resource Management, Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS), Kochi, India, Neelesh Dahanukar of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, India and Madhava Meegaskumbura of Guangxi Key Laboratory of Forest Ecology & Conservation, College of Forestry, Guangxi University, Nanning, China.

Sudasinghe told The Sunday Island that more extensive sampling of Rasbora in India, and analysis based on multiple markers may reveal “a more complex phylogenetic topology” (diversity).

“The Sri Lankan diversification derives from a common ancestor which arrived from India during a sea-level low-stand in the mid-Miocene (15.1 Ma [95% HPD: 11.5–19.8 Ma]), when the present-day island was sub aerially connected to the Indian subcontinent by a broad isthmus”, he added.

Rasbora is generally believed to have arrived in the island from the Indian sub-continent centuries ago when Sri Lanka stood geographically merged with India.  In the latest study, researchers confirm this belief.

“Our analysis suggest that Sri Lankan Rasbora derive from a Mid Miocene, India to Sri Lanka dispersal”, he noted, and added that Sri Lankan Rasbora diversity is higher than that of the Indian peninsula.

The Sri Lankan diversity of Rasbora provides an opportunity to understand the evolutionary and phylogenetic relationships of freshwater fishes in the island. Understanding the bio geography, phylogenetic and the evolutionary relationships of species are pivotal in formulating effective assessments of the conservation status of species as well as to draw up species conservation management plans.

However, such studies are still at very early stages when it comes to the freshwater fishes in Sri Lanka.

The first-ever molecular phylogeny of Sri Lankan Rasbora and reassess the taxonomic identities of the five species of Sri Lankan Rasbora based on an island-wide survey. In this study, based on molecular, morphological and statistical analyses using finer geographic sampling, validate the five putative species of Rasbora previously recognized in Sri Lanka.

In addition, a new species of Rasbora was discovered from eastern Sri Lanka. This new species was named Rasbora adisi. The species name “adisi” means mysterious or enigmatic in Sinhala: an allusion to the cryptic nature of this species.

The new species is found in eastern basins in Sri Lanka such as Gal Oya, Menik River and Kumbukkan River and show the closest resemblance to Rasbora naggsi. However, the new species is different from R. naggsi by a combination of morphological characters in addition to been genetically distinct.

 



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SC: Anti-Terrorism Bill needs approval at referendum and 2/3 majority to become law

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Certain sections inconsistent with Constitution

By Saman Indrajith

Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa informed Parliament yesterday that the Supreme Court (SC) has determined that some sections of the Anti-Terrorism Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution and, therefore, the Bill had to be passed by Parliament with a two-thirds majority and approved by the people at a referendum.

Rajapaksa said that the Supreme Court had determined that the Sections 3, 4, 40, 53, 70, 72 (1), 72 (2), 75 (3) and 83 (7) of the draft Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution.

The SC has determined that sections 3, 40, 53, 70, 72 (1), 75 (3) should be passed by Parliament with a two-thirds majority and approved by the people at a referendum if they are to become law.

Sections 4 and 72 (2) of the Bill have to be amended as per the SC determination.

Section 83 (7) requires passage by a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

However, the SC had stated that it could be passed by a simple majority if the recommended amendments are accommodated, Rajapaksa said.

Opposition MPs say the Anti-Terrorism Bill is being introduced in an election year to repress Opposition parties.They said the proposed law is a threat to democracy itself.

“This Bill is being presented not at a time of terrorism prevailing in the country but during an election period. The Bill has not defined nor analysed what a terrorist is. Anyone can be arrested,” SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara said.

The MP said both the Anti-Terrorism Bill and the controversial Online Safety law were meant to quell democracy.

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Harin’s claim that SL is part of India: Govt. says it is his personal opinion

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Manusha accuses Wimal of having taken parts of Fernando’s speech out of context

By Saman Indrajith

Labour and Foreign Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara told NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa in Parliament to refrain from taking chunks of others’ speeches out of context and misinterpreting them for political mileage.

The Minister said so following concerns raised by Weerawansa over a recent statement by Tourism Minister Harin Fernando on India-Sri Lanka relationships.

Weerawansa said that Minister Fernando had recently stated that Sri Lanka was a part of India. “Was it Minister Fernando’s personal opinion or the government’s official standpoint? Was it the opinion of the Cabinet?”

Chief Government Whip Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said what Minister Fernando had stated was the latter’s personal opinion.

Minister Nanayakkara: “If anyone has read the entire statement made by Minister Fernando this type of question would not have arisen. The Tourism Minister was referring to historical relationships between India and Sri Lanka to ask Indians to visit Sri Lanka.

A distorted version of the speech by Minister Fernando is being circulated on social media. Certain parts have been removed while some words have been introduced to this edited version. Ones should read the statement in its entirety to understand it. We have not discussed this in the Cabinet meeting” Minister Nanayakkara said.

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US backs Lankan journalists vis-a-vis Online Safety law

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Kumar Nadesan, Chairman Board of Directors of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (left) Elizabeth Allen ( Centre) and US Ambassador Chung (pic courtesy US embassy)

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Elizabeth Allen on Monday (19) declared US support for journalists here against the backdrop of enactment of ‘Online Safety Bill’

She spokes about press freedom and related issues at the Sri Lanka Press Institute Press Club.

A statement issued by the US Embassy quoted Allen as having said the U.S. Embassy is all in on supporting your incredible work. Sure, we might bump heads over a story now and then, but above all, we’re your biggest fans. We’re all in on programmes that hone your skills because we believe in your right to pursue journalism freely and fearlessly.

I want to thank you for protecting the rights and freedoms of journalists here in Sri Lanka and around the world, ensuring all citizens enjoy the right to express their ideas and opinions openly and freely. Even in difficult times, you continue to press forward and ask difficult questions. Your commitment to seeking out the truth and shouting it from the rooftops remains a democratic staple, and I truly appreciate what you do.

It’s only fitting that I begin my remarks this afternoon by telling a story that I think is relevant in light of today’s topic about the media’s role in a democracy.

Over a century ago, American media coined the term “muckraker” for journalists who delved into societal issues, exposing corruption.

Although the term carried a somewhat negative connotation, labeling these journalists as mere “gossip mongers,” today, we honor them as the pioneers of investigative journalism.

These muckrakers played a pivotal role in ushering in the Progressive Era, a time of significant social and political reform in American history.

Even President Theodore Roosevelt referred to them as “muckrakers,” criticizing their focus on society’s flaws through figures like Lincoln Steffens, whose work shed light on corruption and spurred a nationwide call for accountability and reform.

Steffens’ book ‘The Shame of the Cities,’ published in 1904, made him renowned for uncovering corruption within American cities, highlighting the nefarious links between political leaders, businesses, and organized crime.

His fearless journalism raised critical awareness about the urgent need for governmental and corporate accountability. Steffens wasn’t acting as a public relations officer for the government; his role was to uncover the truth; however unpleasant it might be.

Faced with the stark realities Steffens presented, American officials and the public were compelled to confront a pivotal question: ‘Is this the kind of country we aspire to be?’ The resounding answer was no.

Steffens’ work didn’t just expose wrongdoing; it sparked a nationwide demand for reform and played a crucial role in fostering a dialogue about the essential role of investigative journalism in ensuring power remains accountable.

This story showcases how freedom of the press and freedom of expression are not just fundamental human rights, they are also vital contributors to a country’s development and growth.

This brings me to my main point: how the global media space supports democracy and fosters peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.

In my mind, the correlation is obvious: When a government constricts the rights and freedoms of its citizens, the future and the development of the country will naturally suffer.

Globally, we’re witnessing serious and escalating challenges to media freedom. The United States stands firmly for the freedom of expression, advocating for press freedom both online and offline, and ensuring the safety of journalists and media workers worldwide. Unfortunately, these essential freedoms are under threat globally, including concerns raised here in Sri Lanka.

When governments intensify efforts to withhold information from the public by restricting internet access and censoring content, we must speak up. Notably, when Sri Lanka’s Parliament passed the Online Safety Bill in January, the United States voiced concerns over its potential effects on freedom of expression, innovation, and privacy.

It’s common to hear arguments against unfettered freedom of expression. Critics claim the media is biased, aiming to embarrass governments and undermine public trust. Others worry that without checks, freedom of expression may fuel the spread of misinformation. Some argue that an unchecked press can incite tension and compromise security. And there’s concern that continuous reports on corruption, violence, and political strife can tarnish a nation’s image, deterring investment and hampering development.

However, the media’s bias should lean towards the public’s interest, acting as a guardian to ensure that leaders fulfill their duties. This principle holds in Sri Lanka, the United States, and globally.

The challenge of negative press, often labeled as “fake news” or “biased journalism,” is not new. For generations, governments and the media have navigated a complex, sometimes adversarial relationship. This dynamic isn’t unique to any one nation; in the United States, for instance, presidents from both major political parties have experienced their share of friction with the press. This tension, a hallmark of democratic societies, plays a crucial role in fostering transparency and encouraging effective governance. It’s a familiar scene: politicians and journalists engage in heated exchanges, especially when leaders feel their actions are misrepresented, leading to accusations of inaccuracies and biased reporting.

The press’s duty is to deliver facts as they stand, shedding light on the government’s achievements as well as spotlighting areas where policies or programs fall short. This transparency not only informs the public but also strengthens the nation as it encourages constructive action and improvement.

And suppressing voices only complicates matters further. Attempting to conceal issues rather than addressing them is akin to hiding a broken tool rather than fixing it. True progress comes from collaborative dialogue, even if it means embracing the messiness of public discourse.”

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