1. Management of invasive species benefits from detailed information on the biology of the invaders, both from where they have already invaded, and from within their areas of origin. Western mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis, is a widely invasive and destructive freshwater fish. However, within its native range, G. affinis co-exists with many other fish species in a wide variety of habitats without obvious harm.
2. In this study, we used data on fish communities within the native range of G. affinis at 154 sites across a broad spatial scale to examine the effects of G. affinis on species richness and diversity of residual (species other than G. affinis) fish assemblages. We further used data based on annual samples at eight fixed river sites over 18 summers to examine temporal population dynamics of G. affinis and to test factors associated with population fluctuations.
3. Higher residual species richness occurred in the presence of G. affinis, but residual diversity did not differ. We found an inverse relationship between relative abundance of G. affinis and residual species richness (although effect size was extremely small), but no effect on residual diversity.
4. Gambusia affinis populations fluctuated markedly across summers at all eight fixed sites, but population sizes at a site over time were not autocorrelated. However, population fluctuations were highly correlated among sites across all years, suggesting that regional factors influenced population size. Regional abundance of G. affinis did not correlate with drought, rainfall or winter temperature, but varied with spring temperature. We suggest earlier onset of reproduction in warmer springs resulted in larger summer populations.
5. Overall, within its native range, G. affinis does not appear to impact negatively on the assemblages in which it occurs, possibly due to fluctuations in its density. These findings suggest that introduced Gambusia populations, and those of other invasive species, warrant careful monitoring over long periods of time where they have invaded. Long-term monitoring of new populations can establish if they are prone to ‘boom and bust’ dynamics, in which case the invader may be less a threat than sometimes assumed. Population information from long-term studies, either in their native ranges or at invaded sites, can thus help to form the basis of prudent, cost-effective management strategies for invasive organisms.