• Amazon molly;
  • Central America;
  • hybrid species;
  • Mexico;
  • niche modelling;
  • niche overlap;
  • range limits;
  • species distribution;
  • south-east United States


Aim  To understand the relative contributions of environmental factors, dispersal limitations and the presence of sperm donors in determining the distribution of the Amazon molly (Poecilia formosa), a sperm-dependent unisexual fish species of hybrid origin. To explore niche similarities and/or differences between the hybrid and parental species. To evaluate whether large-scale abiotic factors can explain a successful introduction of both P. formosa and Poecilia latipinna.

Location  South-east United States, Mexico and Central America.

Methods  We used abiotic variables in ecological niche modelling (ENM) to identify regions with suitable conditions for the presence of the Amazon molly and its two parental species (P. latipinna and Poecilia mexicana). We also used a recently developed metric to calculate the degree of niche overlap between the hybrid and its parental species.

Results  ENM produced highly significant models [all area under the curve (AUC) > 0.99 for the three species]. Annual mean temperature and minimum temperature of the coldest month were the variables that best explained the distribution of the Amazon molly. With the exception of south Florida, few areas beyond the known distribution of the species were predicted to have suitable environmental conditions. The hybrid species niche overlaps partially with the parental species. However, given the available data, it is neither more similar nor more different than expected by chance.

Main conclusions  Two different processes are acting to limit the distribution of P. formosa. At the northern limit, although a sperm donor species is present further north, suitable environmental conditions are absent from nearby locations. At the southern limit, a sperm donor species is present and areas with good environmental conditions are present at nearby locations, suggesting that dispersal ability is the limiting factor. We found that the hybrid species overlaps in a similar way with both parental species while still having its own niche identity. This result may be explained by the fact that hybrid species inherit characteristics of two ecologically divergent species, which can result in intermediate or even transgressive phenotypes. These results support recent work on the role of hybridization in diversification.