Comparing latitudinal and upstream–downstream gradients: life history traits of invasive mosquitofish


Emili García-Berthou, Institute of Aquatic Ecology, University of Girona, E-17071 Girona, Catalonia, Spain.


Aim  Variation of life history traits along spatial gradients is poorly understood in invasive species and particularly in freshwater fish. We aimed to examine life history variation in a highly invasive fish (Gambusia holbrooki) along latitudinal and upstream–downstream river gradients and to assess the effects of age on this variation. We hypothesized similar responses in populations inhabiting environments more favourable to this species (lower latitudes and lower reaches of rivers).

Location  European rivers from southern Spain to southern France.

Methods  We sampled mosquitofish from the lowest reaches of ten river basins along 6° of latitude in the Mediterranean region and seven sites along the upstream–downstream gradient in three of the rivers. We examined abundance, population structure, size-at-age and other life history traits along these gradients.

Results  As hypothesized, lower reaches and lower latitudes both resulted in higher reproductive effort and lower body condition of mosquitofish. However, these patterns explained low per cent variation, were nonlinear and strongly depended on fish age. Independently of fish size, age groups differed in reproductive effort, in the gonadal weight–size relationship and its variation along spatial gradients. Mean size-at-age (or overall body size) did not vary with latitude (so the intra-specific version of Bergmann’s rule or its converse does not apply) and in contrast increased upstream in rivers.

Main conclusions  Our findings suggest that for life history traits of freshwater organisms, river longitudinal variation plays a role as important as climate, with often differential effects. Our results also illustrate the poor knowledge of spatial variation of many life history traits, which precludes the understanding and prediction of biological invasions in a rapidly changing world.