Greater Antillean Freshwater

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Isla de la Juventud, Cuba.
© WWF-Canon / Michel ROGGO

About the Area

Unlike the fauna of most island freshwater streams, the species found in Greater Antillean streams are generally not derived from marine organisms, but are more closely related to the species found in North and South America.

This ecoregion has a high degree of endemism, with at least 70 species of native freshwater fishes, many of which are restricted to individual river basins.
Caves and associated underground streams on these islands are a largely unexplored habitat where more endemic freshwater species are likely to be discovered. With New World crocodiles, unique fish and crab, and unexplored caves, the Greater Antillean rivers are rich in species.
Size:
185,000 sq. km (74,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Small Rivers

Geographic Location:
The Caribbean: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Puerto Rico

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered
Local Species
The family Poecillidae, with 5 genera and over 40 fish species, dominates the fish fauna. 7 species of freshwater crabs from 1 genus are endemic to Cuba.

Characteristic native Antillean freshwater fishes include the Cuban gar (Attractosteus tristoechus), Hispaniolan gambusia (Gambusia hispaniolae), Green rivulus (Rivuluscy lindraceus), and Hispaniola pupfish (Cyprinodon bondi).

The most threatened New World crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer, survives in the Zapata Swamp, located in southwestern Cuba. The widespread American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) also occurs in this ecoregion.

Featured species

New World crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer)

Crocodylus is derived from the Greek krokodeilos which means literally "pebble worm" and rhombifer apparently refers to the shape of flank scales.

It is a medium-sized crocodile, reaching 3.5 m in length (although 5 m individuals have been reported) - slightly smaller than C. acutus. Head is short and broad, and a bony ridge is present behind eyes. Scales forming the dorsal shield (across the back) extend onto the back of the neck, and scales on the legs are unusually large, and heavily keeled on the rear legs.

Juveniles possess eyes with a light iris, which is reported to become darker with age. A characteristic yellow and black patterning has led to the name 'Pearly' crocodile. Its diet is mainly fish and chelonia, with the occasional small mammal.

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Threats
Clearing of forests and conversion of land to agriculture are major threats to the integrity of the freshwater systems of the islands. Growing human populations, associated discharge of untreated sewage and other pollutants, and introduction of exotic species - particularly tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus), further add to the pressure on these freshwater systems.
WWF’s work

Conservation Programs - Greater Antilles (Cuba)
WWF's International Program has two main goals: protect wildlife and habitats in Cuba and ensure Canada meets its international conservation commitments. WWF is helping Cuban ecologists protect endangered species and important habitats.

WWF's current conservation work in Cuba includes a wide range of activities designed to protect the country's rich biodiversity. For example, villagers living near the Zapata wetland are directly benefiting from WWF grants to promote sustainable development in the region. WWF is also providing resources to help local parks staff manage and protect national parks.

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