Invasion risk and impacts of a popular aquarium trade fish and the implications for policy and conservation management

Dugan, Laura Elizabeth
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Invasive species, a top threat affecting global biodiversity, become invasive through a process including four stages: transport, establishment, spread, impact and integration. Species currently in this process provide opportunities to empirically derive the mechanisms driving each of these stages, make predictions based on these mechanisms and then to test these predictions. This research examines the current invaded distribution, potential invasion and community-level impacts of a popular aquarium trade fish (Hemichromis guttatus Günther, 1862) in an endemic hotspot, Cuatro Ciénegas, in Coahuila, México and discusses the policy and conservation management implications of these findings. In Chapter 1, the problem of invasive species, the study site and the focal species of this work are introduced. In Chapter 2, the critical thermal minimum and maximum temperature limits and temperature preference of H. guttatus are identified because temperature is hypothesized to be an important factor controlling this fish’s distribution. The results indicate that H. guttatus has a wide temperature tolerance range (a characteristic of a ‘good’ invader), that preference is a more informative metric for predicting invasion than absolute tolerances, and that resource-poor environments may promote searching behaviors that cause an invasive fish to increase its range. In Chapter 3, the results of a field survey are analyzed and temperature, pH, depth and the presence of vegetation are all found to be related to H. guttatus presence. Invasion risk of several as-of-yet uninvaded sites in Cuatro Ciénegas is assessed. In Chapter 4, competitive and predatory interactions of H. guttatus on an endemic, threatened cichlid (Herichthys minckleyi) and a macroinvertebrate community respectively are investigated. The results suggest that while H. guttatus does not directly impact H. minckleyi through competition in these conditions, it may inhibit reproduction and alter H. minckleyi’s behavior through aggressive interactions. In Chapter 5, all results are synthesized and a determination of the invasive status of H. guttatus in Cuatro Ciénegas is made. The results presented here will be useful in identifying areas with a high risk of invasion by this popular ornamental fish, thus allowing the implementation of policy and management actions to prevent or at least ameliorate the impacts of an invasion and will add to the growing knowledge of how invasive species affect native systems.