Prey selectivity and ontogenetic diet shift of the globally invasive western mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) in agriculturally impacted streams.
The dietary breadth of invaders can influence their success, and having a wide dietary niche can facilitate the spread and survival of invaders under a variety of resource scenarios. The western mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) is a globally distributed freshwater invasive fish. The spread of G. affinis is associated with agricultural land use, although the trophic role it plays in degraded systems is not well understood. We analysed the invertebrate community in 11 stream reaches in the North Island of New Zealand, in catchments spanning a range (45%-90%) of agricultural land use to determine how prey availability changes with land use. We then analysed the gut contents of 400 G. affinis from the 11 sites to determine how diet varied with prey availability and ontogeny. Invertebrate communities varied along the agricultural land-use gradient, both in regard to taxonomic richness and community composition. G. affinis consumed a wide variety of food items with invertebrates being the most dominant, in particular Culicidae, Copepods and amphipods were the most commonly consumed invertebrates. There was also an ontogenetic diet shift from microinvertebrates (Cladocera, Copepods and diatoms) to larger invertebrates, including Culicidae, amphipods and terrestrial invertebrates. G. affinis are capable of consuming a wide variety of prey in agricultural streams; their preferred prey are generally pollution-tolerant taxa commonly found in degraded streams. Having a large level of dietary plasticity coupled with preferring prey that are often associated with degraded systems likely facilitates to the spread of one of the most widely distributed freshwater invasive fish.