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Near the twin capitals of Kinshasa and Brazzaville, the Congo River spills out over a rocky sill at the southern edge of Malebo Pool and cascades down through the gorges of the Crystal Mountains, dropping 280m in elevation en route to the Atlantic Ocean 350 km downstream. Fed by a discharge of 23,000-50,000m3s-1 of water this short stretch of the Congo River is punctuated by some of the most spectacular cataracts, falls and gorges on Earth. The region, known as the Lower Congo rapids, harbors a diverse yet poorly known ichthyofauna, with many species characterized by bizarre morphologies, probably associated with adaptations to living in rapids-habitats. The spectacular but poorly known Lower Congo River and the biological richness it harbors, combined with the growing threats to the region, make this a compelling focus for scientific exploration and inventory in Africa.
Preliminary observations both in the field and from newly assimilated satellite imagery suggest that the Lower Congo is a highly complex system of heterogeneous habitats, composed of series of rapids and falls of various sizes and inclinations, separated by pools and runs of markedly different sizes. The extraordinary hydrology of this stretch of the river represents a model system for exploring underlying patterns of aquatic species richness and endemism. Our ongoing NSF funded Biodiversity Surveys and Inventories project in the region is yielding large collections of fish and mollusk specimens and tissues, which combined with the latest developments in remote sensing technology, allows us to begin to investigate some of the pressing questions concerning the evolutionary history and ecological interactions of aquatic organisms in the Lower Congo rapids, as well as providing critical biodiversity data for conservation planning and global freshwater biodiversity assessments.

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