Comparative gut content analysis of invasive mosquitofish from Italy and Spain.
Eastern mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) are among the most widely introduced freshwater species globally. To gain a better understanding of feeding patterns in non-native populations, and which local factors may influence them at the population level, we carried out gut content analysis on 163 specimens from nine invasive populations in Italy and Spain. Based on previous studies, we predicted that (a) mosquitofish are omnivores with a preference for detritus and cladocerans; (b) they display size- and population-specific differences in gut morphologies and diet, with larger fish feeding more intensively over a wider range of prey items; and (c) some of the variation would be associated with differences in local environmental and climatic factors. Our results confirmed our first prediction, because mosquitofish fed on a variety of diet items, among which detritus and Cladocera dominated. However, not a single diet item was shared among all populations. Congruent with our second prediction, we further identified size- and population-specific differences in the occurrence of some diet items and gut morphologies. However, observed patterns in dietary habits did not seem to be driven by the environmental and climatic variables we had quantified. The fairly variable diet likely aids invasion success and helps explain the ubiquity of invasive mosquitofish across Italy and Spain, as mosquitofish seem to be able to rely on whatever a local habitat provides. We further propose that size-specific differences likely capture the substantial sexual size dimorphism (males are smaller than females), while population-specific differences are likely the result of differences in local prey abundance. The lack of an influence of temperature on dietary habits suggests that mosquitofish feeding ecology may be less impacted by rising temperatures than other freshwater fish species. If true, then this suggests climate change-induced effects may further exacerbate the competitive superiority of mosquitofish over native species in the future.