Global conservation status of marine pufferfishes (Tetraodontiformes: Tetraodontidae)
Puffers are biologically and ecologically fascinating fishes best known for their unique morphology and arsenal of defenses including inflation and bioaccumulation of deadly neurotoxins. These fishes are also commercially, culturally, and ecologically important in many regions. One-hundred-and-fifty-one species of marine puffers were assessed against the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Criteria at a 2011 workshop held in Xiamen, China. Here we present the first comprehensive review of puffer geographic and depth distribution, use and trade, and habitats and ecology and a summary of the global conservation status of marine puffers, determined by applying the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Criteria. The majority (77%) of puffers were assessed as Least Concern, 15% were Data Deficient, and 8% were threatened (Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable) or Near Threatened. Of the threatened species, the majority are limited-ranging habitat specialists which are primarily affected by habitat loss due to climate change and coastal development. However, one threatened puffer (Takifugu chinensis – CR) and four Near Threatened puffers, also in the genus Takifugu (which contains 24 species total), are wide-ranging habitat generalists which are commercially targeted in the international puffer trade. A disproportionate number of species of conservation concern are found along the coast of eastern Asia, from Japan to the South China Sea, with the highest concentration in the East China Sea. Better management of fishing and other conservation efforts are needed for commercially fished Takifugu species in this region. Taxonomic issues within the Tetraodontidae confound accurate reporting and produce a lack of resolution in species distributions. Resolution of taxonomy will enable more accurate assessment of the conservation status of many Data-Deficient puffers.