Urbanization can increase the invasive potential of alien species.
Alien species often flourish and become invasive in urban ecosystems. How and why invaders succeed in urban systems is an important, yet poorly understood, question. We investigate whether the success of urban invaders is related to changes in species traits that enhance invasive potential. We also explore whether a trophic mechanism helps explain the success of invaders in urban systems. We use the guppy Poecilia reticulata, a globally distributed alien species that has invaded both urban and non-urban systems, as our model. We first characterize the effect of urbanization on streams where guppies are present. We measure guppy invasion success using their population density and size-frequency. Then we assess how traits that are related to the potential of guppies to invade (life history and condition) respond to urbanization. Next, we explore how urbanization affects the availability of food for guppies and their diets. We also test if the presence of other fish species grants biological resistance to invasion by dampening guppy invasive potential. We find that urban streams have high concentrations of ammonium and faecal coliforms, indicating contamination from sewage. On average, guppy populations from urban streams have 26× higher density and larger body sizes than non-urban populations. Urban guppies are in better condition and have on average five more offspring than non-urban guppies. Urbanization increases the availability and consumption of highly nutritious food (chironomid larvae) by guppies. We find a positive relationship between the consumption of chironomids and both fecundity and condition. The presence of other fish species in urban streams often has a negative but small effect on guppy traits and density. Our data suggest a relaxation of trade-offs that shape life-history traits which is related to increased food resources in urban streams. These indicate that urbanization enhances the invasive potential of guppies through a trophic mechanism that simultaneously increases reproduction and somatic investment. Such mechanism is likely widespread because chironomids are often highly abundant in urban systems. Thus, not only guppies but also other invasive species can take advantage of such a resource to invest in traits that enhance invasion success.