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The macroinvertebrates of the Cunene River from the Ruacana Falls to the river mouth and assessment of the conservation status of the river

FC de Moor
HM Barber-James
AD Harrison
CR Lugo-Ortiz


The proposed construction of a second hydroelectric power-generating dam on the Cunene (Kunene) River on the Namibia-Angola border, more than 100km downstream of the Ruacana hydroelectric power plant, will have a major influence on the aquatic biota of this river. In order to assess the potential impact of this impoundment a more detailed inventory of the biota in the river prior to this development was needed. Unfortunately the river presently does not represent an entirely undisturbed system as the operation of the Ruacana hydroelectric power station since 1970 has had a long-term effect on its biota. In the low-flow mid-summer season in particular, large areas of the river become irregularly inundated and exposed, sometimes on a daily basis, making them unsuitable for macroinvertebrate colonisation. There are six impoundments along the Cunene River upstream of the Ruacana Falls in Angola. These, however, do not have any major disruptive effects on daily flow variation in the Cunene River in Namibia although whole system biological consequences could be considerable but are unstudied. The Cunene River has a diverse freshwater fish fauna but, prior to the surveys reported here, the aquatic macroinvertebrates had been poorly studied. Surveys conducted by staff of the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) of Namibia and the Albany Museum, Grahamstown, in 1997 and 1998 have resulted in 216 aquatic macroinvertebrate species being recorded from Ruacana to the river mouth. The lower Cunene River, flowing through a very arid region, is biogeographically isolated and therefore highly vulnerable to change. The biota recorded reflects a fauna of widespread species and several elements of tropical origin. Several undescribed species may reflect some endemics but because of limited knowledge of the tropical rivers, this cannot be ascertained with certainty. From the aspect of conservation, the river contains a diversity of species with an abundance of filter-feeding species. Further surveys conducted during different seasons will undoubtedly record more taxa.

Keywords: Cunene (Kunene) River; Namibia; freshwater; macroinvertebrates; water quality; hydroelectric power; minimum flow requirements; species diversity

(Afr J Aqua Sci: 2000 25: 105-122)

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eISSN: 1727-9364
print ISSN: 1608-5914