Morphological variability of black bullhead Ameiurus melas in four non-native European populations

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Abstract

External morphology in black bullhead Ameiurus melas, a fish species considered to have high invasive potential, was studied in its four non-native European populations (British, French, Italian and Slovak). The aim of this study was to examine this species' variability in external morphology, including ontogenetic context, and to evaluate its invasive potential. Specimens from all non-native populations reached smaller body size compared to individuals from native populations. Juvenile A. melas were found to have a relatively uniform body shape regardless of the population's origin, whereas adults developed different phenotypes depending upon location. Specimens from the U.K., Slovak and French populations appeared to be rather similar to each other, whereas the Italian population showed the most distant phenotype. This probably results from the different thermal regime in the Italian habitat. Ameiurus melas from non-native European populations examined in this study showed some potential to alter the body shape both within and between populations. The phenotypic plasticity of A. melas, however, was not found to be as significant as in other invasive fish species. The results suggest that morphological variability itself is not necessarily essential for invasive success. The invasiveness of A. melas is therefore probably favoured by variations in its life-history traits and reproduction variables, together with some behavioural traits (e.g. voracious feeding and parental care) rather than by phenotypic plasticity expressed in external morphology.

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