Population recovery and occurrence of the endemic Rhine sculpin (Cottus rhenanus)

Pim Lemmers*, Mark Groen, Ben H.J.M. Crombaghs, Rob E.M.B. Gubbels, Thomas De Krom, Frank Van Langevelde, Gerard Van Der Velde, Rob S.E.W. Leuven

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The Rhine sculpin (Cottus rhenanus) is a benthic rheophilic fish species that is endemic to tributaries of the rivers Rhine and Meuse in North-western Europe. Little is known about its occurrence and individuals density in relation to habitat characteristics. A core population of C. rhenanus occurs in the River Geul in the Netherlands. Since the late 19th century, this river was heavily polluted by communal and industrial wastewater, causing a strong population decline. As the core population of C. rhenanus is recovering, the status, distribution, and habitat use could be studied to facilitate recovery in other locations. Cottus rhenanus density of individuals significantly increased over the period 2005-2015 and it became one of the most abundant fish species in assemblages. Negative relationships were observed between C. rhenanus densities and a high abundance of boulders (>200 mm), large structures such as woody debris, and water depth. The population increase and recolonization of C. rhenanus coincided with water quality improvement, which suggests that this fish species can be used to assess small streams ecosystem integrity. The recent range expansion of the Ponto-Caspian round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) poses a high risk of negative effects on C. rhenanus populations via food and shelter competition. Further water quality improvement, habitat conservation, and prevention of the spread of invasive gobies could favour C. rhenanus populations within their natural range.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8
Number of pages13
JournalKnowledge and Management of Aquatic Ecosystems
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2023


  • Co-occurring species
  • Cottidae
  • River Geul
  • River restoration
  • Water quality


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