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Data from: Historical data to plan the recovery of the European eel

Cite this dataset

Clavero, Miguel; Hermoso, Virgilio (2016). Data from: Historical data to plan the recovery of the European eel [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. Long-term perspectives are critical to understand contemporary ecological systems. However, historical data on the distribution of biodiversity have only rarely been used in applied environmental sciences. 2. Here, we use historical sources to reconstruct the historical range of the European eel, a critically endangered species. We then use this baseline range to set range targets for the recovery of the European eel, as opposed to the abundance-based targets established by the European Union, which are constrained by the poor information on pre-collapse stocks. 3. We collected over 10 000 historical freshwater fish records from Spain in the 19th and 16th centuries, as well as over 25 000 records from the global biodiversity information facility (GBIF) to characterize historical and current European eel distribution in the Iberian Peninsula. We converted fish records into an eel presence–absence data set using subcatchment as spatial unit of analysis and modelled eel distribution in the different historical periods. 4. The eel was historically widespread throughout the Iberian Peninsula, but it has lost over 80% of its original range, mainly due to river fragmentation by dams. Distribution models applied to 16th- and 19th-century data showed a high agreement, supporting the use of the 19th-century estimated distribution as a baseline range. We identified the number and identity of dams that should be made passable for accomplishing specific range recovery targets, for example showing that acting upon 20 dams would make available 60% of the baseline eel range. 5. Synthesis and applications. This work exemplifies how insights gained from historical ecology can support and guide present-day management of migratory fishes. Similar approaches could be developed throughout Europe to plan the recovery of the eel, since there are large amounts of historical eel records. Historical baseline ranges for the eel range should be incorporated into the European Union legal mandates aimed at the recovery of the species.

Usage notes


Iberian Peninsula