The colonization of new environments (including species invasions) is a fundamentally important process in the ecology and evolution of species, communities and entire ecosystems. Indeed, successful invasions may create novel or alter existing species interactions, and even cause species extinctions. Yet, we only have a poor understanding of the actual mechanisms by which organisms successfully colonize new environments and expand their range.
The eastern mosquitofish, Gambusia holbrooki, is native to the East Coast of the USA but has been introduced to Mediterranean Europe as a potential mosquito control agent. Using this successful and ongoing invasion, the proposed project will investigate the trophic ecology of invasive mosquitofish, including trophic interactions of mosquitofish with other species occupying the same habitats. Hence, this project will also include working with mosquitofish prey (such as aquatic invertebrates), potential mosquitofish competitors (such as the native European killifish of the genus Aphanius and Valencia) and potential mosquitofish predators (such as aquatic hemipterans and arachnids, or piscivorous birds and fishes). The student will sample habitats across a large longitudinal and latitudinal gradient (spanning Italy, France, and Spain) and thus, a wide range of environmental conditions (including high to low temperature, high to low salinity, and high to low habitat productivity). The project will combine dietary (gut morphology, gut content and stable isotope analysis) and experimental (foraging, competition and exploration behaviour) approaches to investigate the impacts of invasive mosquitofish on trophic interactions, and the structure and function of freshwater ecosystems.
Policy Impact of Research:
This project will make a significant contribution to our understanding of how invasive species affect freshwater ecosystems, and what makes mosquitofish such potent and successful invaders. This knowledge will also help inform country-specific management strategies and risk assessment plans.