Translocation of cave fish (Poecilia mexicana) within and between natural habitats along a toxicity gradient


Correspondence: I. Schlupp, Department of Biology, University of Oklahoma, 730 Van Vleet Oval, Norman, OK 73019, USA. E-mail:


During ecological speciation, diverging taxa have the potential to remain in close spatial proximity (i.e., sympatry or micro-allopatry) theoretically allowing for continued contact and gene flow. In a system where incipient speciation of populations of the Atlantic molly (Poecilia mexicana) appears to be driven by abiotic factors, we investigated whether one of these factors, hydrogen sulphide (H2S) toxicity, also constitutes an effective barrier to slow migration within and between habitats. We addressed this experimentally by translocating individuals from high toxicity to lower toxicity within a toxic cave and by translocating individuals from the toxic cave to a nontoxic surface habitat. Using a stepwise-backwards Cox regression, we found that overall mortality was low, but statistically significant mortality occurred when individuals were transferred from higher toxicity to lower toxicity. In addition, only males were negatively affected by being transferred from low levels of toxicity to nontoxic, surface waters. This indicates that in addition to abiotic factors, other mechanisms, like predation and sexual selection, must be important in maintaining population separation.