Triple trouble? Invasive poeciliid fishes carry the introduced tilapia pathogen Gyrodactylus cichlidarum in the Mexican highlands.
As part of ongoing surveys of the gyrodactylid parasite fauna of freshwater fishes in Mexico, we recorded the infection of three species of poeciliids (Poecilia mexicana, Poeciliopsis gracilis, and Pseudoxiphophorus bimaculatus [syn.=Heterandria bimaculata]) with Gyrodactylus cichlidarum, a monogenean parasite of cichlid fishes, which has been co-introduced globally with its translocated, African "tilapia" hosts. This tilapia pathogen was found on poeciliid fishes both within their native distribution range in the Gulf of Mexico slope, as well as on invasive species artificially introduced to the Mexican highlands, to rivers draining into the Pacific Ocean. Identity of G. cichlidarum was confirmed by morphological and molecular analyses. Prevalence and abundance of infection were low, but this is the first record of G. cichlidarum infecting poeciliids (Cyprinodontiformes), which are distantly related to this parasite's primary cichlid fish hosts (Perciformes). This study provides evidence that G. cichlidarum, a recognized pathogen which has been co-introduced globally with its cichlid fish hosts for aquacultural purposes, is able to infect non-related poeciliid fishes inhabiting water bodies adjacent to tilapia farms, thereby potentially increasing its ability to disperse between farms and different river basins. It is of particular concern that G. cichlidarum was found on poeciliids, as these invasive fishes have been introduced worldwide and could act as carriers for this parasite known to induce significant mortality of farmed tilapias - globally, the second most important freshwater aquaculture fish group, after the carps.