Phenotypic plasticity in the spawning traits of bigheaded carp (Hypophthalmichthys spp.) in novel ecosystems


Reuben R. Goforth, Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University, 715 W. State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907, U.S.A. E-mail:


1. Bigheaded carp, including both silver (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) and bighead (H. nobilis) carp, are successful invasive fishes that threaten global freshwater biodiversity. High phenotypic plasticity probably contributes to their success in novel ecosystems, although evidence of plasticity in several spawning traits has hitherto been largely anecdotal or speculative.

2. We collected drifting eggs from a Midwestern U.S.A. river from June to September 2011 and from April to June 2012 to investigate the spawning traits of bigheaded carp in novel ecosystems.

3. Unlike reports from the native range, the presence of drifting bigheaded carp eggs was not related to changes in hydrological regime or mean daily water temperature. Bigheaded carp also exhibited protracted spawning, since we found drifting eggs throughout the summer and as late as 1 September 2011. Finally, we detected bigheaded carp eggs in a river reach where the channel is c. 30 m wide with a catchment area of 4579 km2, the smallest stream in which spawning has yet been documented.

4. Taken with previous observations of spawning traits that depart from those observed within the native ranges of both bighead and silver carp, our findings provide direct evidence that bigheaded carp exhibit plastic spawning traits in novel ecosystems that may facilitate invasion and establishment in a wider range of river conditions than previously envisaged.