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Xiphophorus hellerii

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Datasheet

Xiphophorus hellerii

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 25 September 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Xiphophorus hellerii
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Actinopterygii
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • The swordtail X. hellerii is a small, popular ornamental freshwater fish that occurs as an introduced species in the aquatic habitats of at least 31 countries, principally because of human-mediated translocation...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Female X. helleri collected from the Irwin River in Western Australia. Note the melanic caudal fin of the upper specimen typical of Xiphophorus hybrids.
TitleFemales
CaptionFemale X. helleri collected from the Irwin River in Western Australia. Note the melanic caudal fin of the upper specimen typical of Xiphophorus hybrids.
Copyright©Mark Maddern
Female X. helleri collected from the Irwin River in Western Australia. Note the melanic caudal fin of the upper specimen typical of Xiphophorus hybrids.
FemalesFemale X. helleri collected from the Irwin River in Western Australia. Note the melanic caudal fin of the upper specimen typical of Xiphophorus hybrids. ©Mark Maddern
Habitat of Xiphophorus helleri; The Irwin River, located in the Indian Ocean (Pilbara) Drainage Division of Western Australia.
TitleHabitat
CaptionHabitat of Xiphophorus helleri; The Irwin River, located in the Indian Ocean (Pilbara) Drainage Division of Western Australia.
Copyright©Mark Maddern
Habitat of Xiphophorus helleri; The Irwin River, located in the Indian Ocean (Pilbara) Drainage Division of Western Australia.
HabitatHabitat of Xiphophorus helleri; The Irwin River, located in the Indian Ocean (Pilbara) Drainage Division of Western Australia.©Mark Maddern

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Xiphophorus hellerii Heckel, 1848

Other Scientific Names

  • Poecilia helleri Heckel
  • Xiphophorus brevis Regan
  • Xiphophorus guentheri Jordan and Evermann
  • Xiphophorus guntheri Jordan and Evermann
  • Xiphophorus helleri
  • Xiphophorus helleri Heckel
  • Xiphophorus helleri brevis Hubbs and Gordon
  • Xiphophorus helleri helleri Del Campo
  • Xiphophorus helleri strigatus De Buen
  • Xiphophorus hellerii guentheri Hubb
  • Xiphophorus jalapae Meek
  • Xiphophorus rachovii Regan
  • Xiphophorus strigatus Regan

International Common Names

  • English: green swordtail

Local Common Names

  • Australia: swordtail
  • Belize: green swordtail
  • Canada: green swordtail; queue d'epee
  • Czech Republic: mecovka pestra
  • Denmark: almindelig svaerddrager; svaerddrager
  • Ecuador: espada
  • Finland: miekkapyrsto
  • Germany: Atoyac-Schwerttrager; Belize-Schwerttrager; Catemaco-Schwerttrager; Funfstreifen-Schwerttrager; Gelber Schwerttrager; Gerfleckter Schwerttrager; Gruner Schwerttrager; Helleri; Messingschwerttrager; Oaxaca-Schwerttrager; Schwerttrager; Streifenschwerttrager; Yucatan-Schwerttrager
  • Indonesia: suwadaker
  • Martinique: porte-epee; Xipho
  • Mexico: cola de espada; green swordtail
  • Namibia: swordtail
  • Papua New Guinea: swordtail
  • Poland: mieczyk hellera
  • Puerto Rico: green swordtail
  • Réunion: mailleur; porte-epee
  • Slovakia: mecovka zelena
  • South Africa: swaarddraer; swaardstert; swordtail
  • Sri Lanka: green swordtail
  • Sweden: svardbarare
  • Turkey: kilickuyruk
  • USA: green swordtail; red swordtail; swordtail

Summary of Invasiveness

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The swordtail X. hellerii is a small, popular ornamental freshwater fish that occurs as an introduced species in the aquatic habitats of at least 31 countries, principally because of human-mediated translocation and release. X. hellerii has proven highly invasive because of wide environmental tolerances, the ability to colonise disturbed habitats, trophic opportunism, fast growth rates and the ability to give birth to live offspring. Research from Australia, Bahamas, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Israel and the USA suggest that when X. hellerii occurs in high numbers, and particularly when it co-occurs with other introduced poeciliids (Gambusia, Poecilia or Xiphophorus spp.), impacts are observed on aquatic ecosystems. Ecological impacts upon endemic fish fauna may include resource competition and predation, and predation of aquatic invertebrate communities as a whole. Due to the popular ornamental status of X. hellerii, it is rarely considered a “pest” species, though it is listed on invasive species databases (e.g. ISSG).

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Actinopterygii
  •                     Order: Cyprinodontiformes
  •                         Family: Poeciliidae
  •                             Genus: Xiphophorus
  •                                 Species: Xiphophorus hellerii

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Xiphophorus hellerii was described by Heckel (1848). Confusion exists on the designation of the species name as either hellerii or helleri. Both designations are common in peer-reviewed literature though in this document hellerii is accepted as correct (e.g. Froese and Pauly, 2007; Nico and Fuller, 2008). The genus Xiphophorus contains almost 30 species (Froese and Pauly, 2007) and members of this genus are known to commonly hybridise (Dawes, 1995; Bailey and Sandford, 1999; Balon, 2004). Thus, commercially produced ornamental X. hellerii may contain many colours not observed in natural populations (Tamaru et al., 2001) and be the result of hybridisation between different Xiphophorus spp. Most ornamental varieties have resulted from hybridisation and artificial selection of three species; i.e. X. hellerii, and the platys Xiphophorus maculatus and Xiphophorus variatus (Dawes, 1995; Balon, 2004). The common name for X. hellerii (i.e. “swordtail”) is recognized worldwide and it is one of the most popular of all ornamental freshwater tropical fishes.

Description

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X. hellerii is an elongated, laterally compressed fish with a pointed head. Like many poeciliids, X. hellerii is sexually dimorphic and males and females may reach 140 mm and 160 mm respectively, though are usually much smaller (average approximately 50-70 mm). Males develop a ‘sword’ from the lower rays of the caudal fin; hence the common name “swordtail”.

Colour is highly variable due to i) the large number and variability of natural habitats, and ii) the propensity for Xiphophorus spp. to hybridise. Captive-bred ornamental fish typically exhibit bright coloration, usually orange or red, though there are also yellow and black (and other) varieties. Fish from wild populations are usually light greenish in colour with a red or brown mid-lateral stripe and the male’s sword may be black edged. Dark spots, or speckling, may also be present on the sides and on the dorsal and caudal fins. Xiphophorus spp. commonly hybridise and most ornamental varieties have resulted from hybridisation and artificial selection of three species; i.e. X. hellerii, X. maculatus and X. variatus. Thus, ornamental populations (and introduced populations with ornamental heritage) may have characteristics not commonly observed in native populations, e.g. melanic pigmentation on the caudal fin and peduncle which is more commonly associated with X. maculatus.

Males possess a modified anal fin called a gonopodium that is used to inseminate the female. The terminal segment of gonopodial ray 5a has a scythe-shaped claw at tip, and ray 4p has small, blunt serrae at tip. The dorsal fin is relatively long and has 11-14 soft rays; the anal fin has 8-10 soft rays and 26-30 lateral scales. The origin of the dorsal fin is at or a little behind level of the pelvic fins. Gravid females may have a dark abdominal mark or brood spot, and the abdomen may appear quite distended close to birth.

General references used this section: Page and Burr (1991); Wischnath (1993); Dawes (1995); McDowell (1999); Skelton (2001); Tamaru et al. (2001); Allen et al. (2002); Froese and Pauly (2007); ACTFR (2009).

Distribution

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X. hellerii is native to Central America from Rio Nantla, Veracruz in Mexico to northwestern Honduras (Froese and Pauly, 2007). Due to its popularity as an ornamental fish the species has been widely translocated and introduced populations occur in at least 31 countries. Some populations may be X. hellerii x X. maculatus hybrids; e.g. Florida (Courtenay et al., 1974) and Nevada (Nico and Fuller, 2008).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

ChinaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-GuangdongPresentIntroducedKFBG, 2002
-Hong KongPresentIntroduced Invasive Dudgeon and Corlett, 1994; FAO, 1997
IndiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-MaharashtraPresentIntroducedDahanukar et al., 2004
IndonesiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Nusa TenggaraPresentIntroducedKottelat et al., 1993
IsraelWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Goren and Galil, 2005; Roll et al., 2007
JapanPresentIntroducedJapan Ministry of Environment, 2005Specific location unknown
SingaporePresentIntroducedNg et al., 1993; FAO, 1997
Sri LankaPresentIntroducedWelcomme, 1988; Pethiyagoda, 1991
TaiwanPresentIntroducedLiang et al., 2006

Africa

MadagascarWidespreadIntroducedReinthal and Stiassny, 1991Widespread throughout Madagascar
NamibiaPresentIntroducedHay et al., 1999; Bethune et al., 2004
RéunionPresentIntroducedKeith et al., 1999
South AfricaWidespreadIntroducedJubb, 1977; Skelton, 2001; Macdonald et al., 2003
ZambiaPresentIntroducedThys Audenaerde DFEvan den, 1994

North America

CanadaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AlbertaPresentIntroduced Not invasive Crossman, 1984Occupies geothermal springs, not recorded by Nelson (1984)
MexicoWidespreadNative Not invasive Page and Burr, 1991; Froese and Pauly, 2007
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-ArizonaIntroduced, not establishedIntroducedCourtenay and Meffe, 1989; Nico and Fuller, 2008Extirpated, or not established
-CaliforniaIntroduced, not establishedIntroducedCourtenay and Meffe, 1989; Nico and Fuller, 2008Extirpated, or not established. Breeding populations considered unlikely in California (Moyle, 1976)
-ColoradoPresentIntroducedNico and Fuller, 2008Occurs in several counties
-FloridaPresentIntroducedCourtenay et al., 1974; Nico and Fuller, 2008
-HawaiiWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Maciolek, 1984
-IdahoPresentIntroducedCourtenay and Meffe, 1989; Page and Burr, 1991; Nico and Fuller, 2008Occupies geothermal springs/outflows
-MontanaPresentIntroducedCourtenay and Meffe, 1989; Page and Burr, 1991; Nico and Fuller, 2008Occupies geothermal springs/outflows
-NevadaPresentIntroducedCourtenay et al., 1984; Page and Burr, 1991; Nico and Fuller, 2008X. hellerii and or X. hellerii hybrids collected in three geothermal springs. Not collected in 1980 (Courtenay and Deacon, 1982)
-TexasPresentIntroducedNico and Fuller, 2008
-WyomingPresentIntroduced Invasive Courtenay and Meffe, 1989; Page and Burr, 1991; Nico and Fuller, 2008Occupies geothermal springs/outflows

Central America and Caribbean

BahamasPresentIntroduced Invasive Barton and Wilmhoff, 1996
BelizeWidespreadNative Not invasive Page and Burr, 1991; Froese and Pauly, 2007
GuatemalaWidespreadNative Not invasive Page and Burr, 1991; Froese and Pauly, 2007
HondurasWidespreadNative Not invasive Page and Burr, 1991; Froese and Pauly, 2007
JamaicaPresentIntroducedLee et al., 1983
MartiniquePresentIntroducedLim et al., 2002
Puerto RicoPresentIntroducedErdman, 1984Impacts unlikely as majority of inland fishes are marine spawners

South America

BrazilPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-ParanaPresentIntroducedPavanelli et al., 2007
ColombiaPresentIntroducedWelcomme, 1988; Froese and Pauly, 2007

Europe

Czechoslovakia (former)PresentIntroducedHolcík, 1991; Zicha, 2007
HungaryPresentIntroducedHolcík, 1991Established though rare

Oceania

AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentIntroducedCorfield et al., 2007Isolated populations near Darwin and Alice Springs
-New South WalesPresentIntroducedCorfield et al., 2007Restricted to two locations in northern NSW
-QueenslandPresentIntroduced Invasive McKay, 1978; Milton and Arthington, 1983
-Western AustraliaPresentIntroducedMorgan and Gill, 2001; Morgan et al., 2004Restricted distribution though abundant in Irwin River
FijiPresentIntroducedRyan, 1980; Andrews, 1985; Lewis and Pring, 1986
GuamPresentIntroducedBest and Davidson, 1981
New CaledoniaPresentIntroducedSéret, 1997; Marquet et al., 2003
New ZealandPresentIntroducedMcDowall, 1999Inhabits geothermal springs, no risk of spread
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroducedAllen, 1991; Werry, 1998; Polhemus et al., 2004

History of Introduction and Spread

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X. hellerii has been introduced to many countries though it has probably been best documented in Australia and the USA. In Australia, X. hellerii has been recorded in Queensland since 1966 (Arthington and Lloyd, 1989), and it is now common in creeks and waterways of the coastal drainages of southern and central Queensland (Merrick and Schmida, 1984). There is some evidence that the species was released for the biocontrol of mosquitoes (McKay, 1978). The species has also been recorded from New South Wales, the Northern Territory and most recently in Western Australia (Morgan and Gill, 2001; Maddern, 2011; Corfield et al., 2007). X. hellerii was introduced to the USA around 1922 (FAO, 1997) and has been recorded in states including Nevada, Colorado, Texas, Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming (Page and Burr, 1991; Nico and Fuller, 2008).

Introductions

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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Australia Singapore 1965 Yes No Welcomme (1988)
Canada 1971 No No FAO (1997)
Hawaii 1922 Yes No Welcomme (1988)
Hungary 1932 No No FAO (1997)
Israel 1946-1949 Yes No Froese and Pauly (2007)
Papua New Guinea Mexico 1935 Yes No Welcomme (1988)
Puerto Rico 1940 Yes No Erdman (1984)
Singapore 1960-1969 Yes No FAO (1997)
South Africa Mexico 1974 Yes No Welcomme (1988)
Sri Lanka 1960-1969 Yes No Welcomme (1988)
USA Central America 1922 Yes No FAO (1997)

Risk of Introduction

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Introduced species may be spread through natural dispersal, though the range expansion of small, ornamental fishes is most often facilitated by human-mediated translocation (Lintermans, 2004) and the likelihood of translocation and release is influenced strongly by a species’ popularity and abundance. X. hellerii is a very popular ornamental species worldwide (Welcomme, 1988; Barton and Wilmhoff, 1996; Froese and Pauly, 2007), and as an example accounts for 1.0% of the total number of ornamental fish imported into the USA (Chapman et al., 1997). It is considered of “high” importance as an ornamental fish in Australia (Corfield et al., 2007) and has been promoted as an aquaculture subject within Western Australia (Thorne and Hickton, 2002). Thus, there is a greater probability of popular species, such as X. hellerii, being released into aquatic environments. Arthington (1991) and Corfield et al. (2007) assessed the likelihood of further range expansions in tropical and subtropical Australia as high, based on considerations such as anthropogenic factors (popularity among aquarists, risk of release), physiological tolerances and invasive success in other countries. Non-indigenous populations occur in many countries (Froese and Pauly, 2007), and within Australia the species has become common in coastal drainages of southeastern and central Queensland (Merrick and Schmida, 1984; Arthington, 1991). Much of the spread of X. hellerii in Queensland must be attributed to anthropogenic factors (McKay, 1978; Arthington and Lloyd, 1989), and these factors are applicable also to other countries.

Habitat

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In its native range, X. hellerii is found in lotic systems, i.e. upland and coastal reaches of rivers, and lentic systems. Within these habitats it prefers heavily vegetated areas (Wischnath, 1993). Like other introduced poeciliids, X. hellerii thrives in anthropogenically-modified habitats where introduced species may have a competitive advantage over native species (Arthington et al., 1983). In the USA, X. hellerii occurs in warm springs and their effluents, weedy canals and ponds (Page and Burr, 1991). In anthropogenically-modified urban creeks in Brisbane, the species was often associated with exotic paragrass (Arthington et al., 1983).

Habitat List

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CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Freshwater
Irrigation channels Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Lakes Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Ponds Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Reservoirs Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Rivers / streams Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rivers / streams Principal habitat Natural
Rivers / streams Principal habitat Productive/non-natural

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

The diploid/haploid chromosome numbers of X. hellerii are 48-48/24 (Froese and Pauly, 2007). Xiphophorus spp. commonly hybridize (Dawes, 1995; Bailey and Sandford, 1999; Balon, 2004), and most ornamental varieties have resulted from hybridization and artificial selection of three species; i.e. X. hellerii, X. maculatus and X. variatus (Dawes, 1995; Balon, 2004). Thus, commercial X. hellerii strains may often have characteristics not commonly observed in natural populations; e.g. melanic markings on the caudal fin and peduncle that are typical of X. maculates not X. hellerii (Page and Burr, 1991; Tamaru et al., 2001).

Reproductive Biology

X. hellerii is ovoviviparous (i.e. livebearing), with insemination occurring by the males’ gonopodium. Like many poeciliids, X. hellerii has fairly large brood sizes, short gestation periods and multiple broods per year (Milton and Arthington, 1983; Dawes, 1995; Maddern, 2011). X. hellerii can reach maturity at 25-30 mm or at 10-12 weeks (Milton and Arthington, 1983; Dawes, 1995) whereas Wischnath (1993) states that the species may attain sexual maturity after 8 to 12 months. In subtropical Australia (Brisbane, Queensland) breeding is virtually continuous (11 months), with optimal temperature for breeding 22-26°C and fry production ceasing below 15°C or above approximately 30°C (Milton and Arthington, 1983). After a gestation period of 24-30 days, females give birth to 20-240 young (Breder and Rosen, 1966). In southwestern Australia, Maddern (2011) collected gravid females in all seasonal samples, though juveniles were absent in spring inferring reproduction does not occur in winter and/or juvenile mortality during late winter is high. Although the mean length of gravid females (38.7 mm) and mean gonadosomatic index (14.7) were similar to reported data for X. hellerii populations in Queensland, mean fecundity was markedly lower in Western Australia, i.e. 34.1 compared to 60.15 (Maddern, 2011). A logistic curve fitted to the percentage of female X. hellerii with developing and mature gonads predicted 95% maturation at 39.1 mm and the sex ratios of females to males did not differ statistically from a ratio of 2:1 (Maddern, 2011).

Physiology and Phenology

The adaptability of poeciliid life history in response to environmental stimuli has been well studied and is one of the main reasons these fishes are successful as introduced species in variable environments (Meffe and Snelson, 1989). However, although X. hellerii is a popular ornamental fish and is common as an in introduced species in many countries little research has been conducted into its biology (Milton and Arthington, 1983; Arthington, 1989a). Milton and Arthington (1983) noted that reproduction was influenced by temperature and occurred between approximately 15 and 30°C, though no published data of the species within its native range is available for comparison.

Nutrition

X. hellerii is omnivorous and the diet of introduced populations in Queensland and Western Australia included silt/biofilm, plant material (filamentous and unicell algae, small crustaceans (ostracods), aquatic insects (dipteran and ephemeropteran larvae) and annelids (Arthington, 1989b; Maddern, 2011). In Western Australia the diet of all X. hellerii size classes was omnivorous (primarily vegetal matter/algae), though a statistically significance difference was observed between the diet of juveniles and that of the two larger size classes (i.e. juveniles consumed greater quantities of aquatic invertebrates) (Maddern, 2011). Similarly, in aquaria Xiphophorus spp. are considered omnivorous (Mills and Vevers, 1982). X. hellerii is known to be cannibalistic (Jones et al., 1998) and upon introduction it may consume fish eggs and/or juveniles of indigenous fishes (Mackenzie et al., 2001).

Associations

X. hellerii often inhabits anthropogenically-modified habitats (Arthington et al., 1983), and in these areas it often co-occurs with other introduced poeciliids including Gambusia spp. (i.e. G. holbrooki and G. affinis), other Xiphophorus spp. (X. variatus or X. maculates) and/or Poecilia reticulata (e.g. McKay, 1978; Arthington et al., 1983; Goren and Galil, 2005). Arthington et al. (1986) observed that X. hellerii may have out competed G. holbrooki in southern Queensland. This phenomenon has also been observed in the Bahamas where Gambusia spp. were absent in locations where X. hellerii and X. maculatus were abundant (Barton and Wilmhoff, 1996).

Environmental Requirements

X. hellerii has fairly broad environmental tolerances and, as it is common as an introduced species in many countries, occurs in many different habitats. Although it is a tropical/subtropical species with a “native” latitude of 12-26°N, it occurs in many areas outside of this latitude range and in colder climates. There are reliable reports of it occurring at up to 30°S in Australia (Western Australia and New South Wales) and South Africa (Skelton, 2001; Maddern, 2011; Corfield et al., 2007). It occurs at higher latitudes in natural warm springs in some American states (Nevada (36°N) and Idaho, Montana, Wyoming (43-45°N) and New Zealand (39°S) (Froese and Pauly, 2007). It has been suggested that the species may become cold adapted in sub-tropical populations due to selective breeding (McKay, 1978; Arthington, 1991), which may help explain other populations at high latitudes, e.g. Colorado (37°N), Israel (30-33°N) and Hungary/Slovakia/Czech Republic (46-49°N) (Holcik, 1991; Goren and Galil, 2005; Nico and Fuller, 2008).

 

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
Af - Tropical rainforest climate Preferred > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
BS - Steppe climate Tolerated > 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Tolerated Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
34 29

Water Tolerances

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ParameterMinimum ValueMaximum ValueTypical ValueStatusLife StageNotes
Ammonium [ionised] (mg/l) Optimum Less than or equal to 1 ppm tolerated (Englund, 2002)
Conductivity (µmhos/cm) 3.43 3.65 Optimum (Maddern, 2011)
Dissolved oxygen (mg/l) Optimum More than or equal to 2 ppm tolerated (Englund, 2002)
Hardness (mg/l of Calcium Carbonate) 9 19 Optimum (Froese and Pauly, 2007)
Salinity (part per thousand) Optimum Less than or equal to 3 tolerated (Englund, 2002)
Water pH (pH) 7.0 8.0 Optimum (Englund, 2002)
Water temperature (ºC temperature) 22 28 Optimum 10-32+ tolerated (Milton and Arthington, 1983; Englund, 2002; Maddern, 2011; Froese and Pauly, 2007)

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Glossamia aprion Predator Adult not specific Arthington et al., 1986

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Little information is available on the mostly piscine natural predators of X. hellerii. These are documented in the natural enemies table.

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)


Further spread of X. hellerii by natural dispersal may occur (e.g. flooding), though is most likely in areas with substantial populations, i.e. Queensland, Australia.

Vector Transmission (Biotic)

No data available (unlikely to occur).

Intentional Introduction

X. hellerii
may be intentionally introduced to aquatic habitats as unwanted ornamental fishes, and possibly as a mosquito biocontrol agent.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Biological controlAustralia Yes Yes McKay, 1978
Intentional releaseAustralia Yes Yes McKay, 1978
Pet tradeAustralia Yes Yes Lintermans, 2004

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Pets and aquarium speciesPopular ornamental species Yes Yes Corfield et al., 2007
WaterDispersal by flooding Yes McKay, 1978

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Economic/livelihood Positive and negative
Environment (generally) Negative

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Biodiversity

Although much literature has considered the invasive potential and ecological impacts of X. hellerii (e.g. McKay, 1978; Arthington, 1991; Arthington et al., 1999; Bomford and Glover, 2004; Corfield et al., 2007), the ecological impacts are poorly understood (Arthington and Lloyd, 1989; Arthington, 1991) and specific mechanisms have not been clearly defined. An example is the difficulty of dissociating the effects of habitat and hydrological changes compared with the effects of X. hellerii on indigenous fauna in Queensland (Milton and Arthington, 1983; Arthington et al., 1990).

While the specific ecological impacts of X. hellerii may be unclear, research from locations including Australia (McKay, 1978; Arthington et al., 1983), Hawaii (Englund, 1999), Hong Kong (Dudgeon and Corlett, 1994), Israel (Goren and Galil, 2005) and the USA (Courtenay et al., 1988) suggests that when X. hellerii occurs in high numbers, and particularly in sympatry with other introduced poeciliids (Gambusia, Poecilia or Xiphophorus spp.), impacts are observed on aquatic ecosystems.
A negative synergistic effect may exist between introduced X. hellerii and G. holbrooki in Queensland, as where both species co-exist in large numbers native fishes are rare of absent, particularly surface-dwelling species (McKay, 1978, 1984; Arthington et al., 1983; Arthington, 1989a, 1991). Similar observations have been made in Israel where X. hellerii and Gambusia affinis co-occur and indigenous fish are depressed (Goren and Galil, 2005). Similarly, Courtenay et al. (1988) implicated P. reticulata and X. hellerii in the decline of the Utah sucker (Catostomus arden) in a thermal Spring in northwestern Wyoming. Controlled laboratory trials with X. hellerii, G. holbrooki and two small, Australian native fishes demonstrated increased aggression and resource competition with both poeciliids present (Warburton and Madden, 2003).

Other potential ecological impacts of X. hellerii may include the consumption fish eggs and/or juveniles of indigenous fishes (Mackenzie et al., 2001) and predation upon invertebrate communities, which may also indirectly affect the food resources of native fishes (Arthington and McKenzie, 1997), and therefore the aquatic food web as a whole.

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Erinna newcombi (Newcomb's snail)VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable) VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable); USA ESA listing as threatened species USA ESA listing as threatened speciesHawaiiPredationUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2006
Megalagrion xanthomelas (orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly)VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable) VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable); USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesHawaiiPredationUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2014

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Gregarious
Impact outcomes
  • Monoculture formation
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition
  • Herbivory/grazing/browsing
  • Interaction with other invasive species
  • Predation
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately

Uses

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Economic Value

X. hellerii is a very popular ornamental species worldwide (Welcomme, 1988; Barton and Wilmhoff, 1996; Froese and Pauly, 2007), and as an example accounts for 5.4% of the total number of ornamental fish imported into the USA (Chapman et al., 1997). It is considered of “high” importance as an ornamental fish in Australia (Corfield et al., 2007) and has been promoted as an aquaculture subject within Western Australia (Thorne and Hickton, 2002).

Social Benefit

It has been speculated that X. hellerii has been deliberately translocated and released as a biocontrol agent (McKay, 1978). If this indeed has occurred and there has subsequently been a demonstrable control of mosquito numbers then this could be deemed a social benefit.

Environmental Services

As stated above under “social benefit”, the use of X. hellerii as a biocontrol agent could be considered an environmental service.

Uses List

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Environmental

  • Biological control
  • Ornamental

General

  • Laboratory use
  • Pet/aquarium trade
  • Research model

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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X. hellerii is quite similar to X. maculatus and X. variatus. Only X. hellerii males possess a gonopodium, and X. hellerii typically grows larger than the other two species. X. hellerii may grow to over 100 mm, though X. maculatus and X. variatus will grow to a maximum size of 60-70 mm (Page and Burr, 1991), and are usually below 50 mm. Both X. maculatus and X. variatus typically have 9-12 soft dorsal rays.

Prevention and Control

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Prevention

Public awareness

In Australia, literature aimed at raising public awareness about invasive ornamental fishes have included X. hellerii (e.g. Fisheries Western Australia, 2000).

Eradication


No information about eradication attempts has been published, though it is acknowledged that once established, it is almost impossible to remove introduced species such as X. hellerii (Morgan and Gill, 2001).

Control

Chemical control

Rotenone is commonly used to collect and eradicate small fishes including poeciliids. For example Rayner and Creese (2006) attempted to unsuccessfully eradicate Phalloceros caudimaculatus from a series of connected pools in New South Wales, Australia using rotenone.

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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X. hellerii is a very popular ornamental species with nonindigenous populations occurring in many countries yet little research has been conducted on the species biology and ecological impacts upon introduction. The specific mechanisms and/or ecological impacts need to be more closely examined.

References

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Links to Websites

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WebsiteURLComment
Australian Centre for Tropical Freshwater Research (ACTFR)http://www.actfr.jcu.edu.au/
Non Indigenous Aquatic Species (NAS)http://nas.er.usgs.gov/

Contributors

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08/05/09 Original text by:

Mark Maddern, University of Western Australia, Australia

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