Invasive Species Compendium

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Datasheet

Gambusia holbrooki
(eastern mosquitofish)

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Datasheet

Gambusia holbrooki (eastern mosquitofish)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 06 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Animal
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Gambusia holbrooki
  • Preferred Common Name
  • eastern mosquitofish
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Actinopterygii
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • The eastern mosquitofish Gambusia holbrooki is an exotic fish, which is now widespread around the globe and is known to adversely affect native fish through competition and/or predation. G. holbrooki ...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Adult Gambusia holbrooki, the Eastern mosquito fish, from Australia.
TitleAdult fish
CaptionAdult Gambusia holbrooki, the Eastern mosquito fish, from Australia.
CopyrightStephen L. Doggett/Dept. of Medical Entomology, Westmead Hospital, Sydney, Australia
Adult Gambusia holbrooki, the Eastern mosquito fish, from Australia.
Adult fishAdult Gambusia holbrooki, the Eastern mosquito fish, from Australia.Stephen L. Doggett/Dept. of Medical Entomology, Westmead Hospital, Sydney, Australia

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Gambusia holbrooki Girard, 1859

Preferred Common Name

  • eastern mosquitofish

Other Scientific Names

  • Gambusia affinis holbrocki (Girard, 1859)
  • Gambusia affinis holbrooki (Girard, 1859)
  • Gambusia holbrookii Girard, 1859
  • Gambusia patruelis holbrooki (Girard, 1859)
  • Heterandria holbrooki (Girard, 1859)
  • Heterandria uninotata (non Poey, 1860)
  • Schizophallus holbrooki (Girard, 1859)
  • Zygonectes atrilatus Jordan & Brayton, 1878

International Common Names

  • English: mosquito fish; mosquitofish
  • Spanish: gambusino

Local Common Names

  • Albania: barkaleci pikalosh
  • Australia: eastern gambusia
  • Iran: gambusia
  • Italy: gambusia
  • Portugal: peixe-mosquito
  • Romania: gambuzie
  • Sweden: östlig moskitfisk
  • USA: eastern topminnow

Summary of Invasiveness

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The eastern mosquitofish Gambusia holbrooki is an exotic fish, which is now widespread around the globe and is known to adversely affect native fish through competition and/or predation. G. holbrooki is known to impact upon native fish via competition with similar sized species, predation upon the fry and eggs of native fish, and by attacking all sized fish by aggressive fin-nipping, thereby leaving them susceptible to disease (Arthington, 1991). G. holbrooki can rapidly increase in population size due to its rapid maturation to breeding age (four weeks in summer) and high survival rate of young (Milton and Arthington, 1983; Lloyd et al., 1986; Lloyd, 1990).

Taxonomic Tree

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

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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This datasheet focuses upon Gambusia holbrooki, although much of the biology is confused between the previous subspecies and now congeners, G. holbrooki and G. affinis. Therefore, unless specified, reference to mosquitofish refers to both species. Data for both species is also presented because both species were both regarded as Gambusia affinis prior to 1988 and even after this date workers often referred Gambusia affinis as a generic name for both species.
 
The genus Gambusia comprises about 30 species divided into four sub-genera: Orthophallus, Arthrophallus, Heterophallina,and Gambusia. Other gambusine species rarely coexist with G. affinis, but when they do they are usually ecologically segregated. However, this species will hybridise with some of its congeners, including G. heterochir, G. nobilis, and G. marshi (Hubbs, 1955; Rosen and Bailey, 1963; Hubbs and Perden, 1969; Schoenherr, 1974; Yardley and Hubbs, 1976).
 
Wotten et al. (1988) formally recognised two species - G. holbrooki and G. affinis - which were previously regarded as sub-species of G. affinis (G. a. holbrooki and G. a. affinis). These species are different in a number of meristic characteristics but are definitively differentiated by the morphological differences of the gonopodium (male anal fin) (see Lloyd, 1990c). Work by Lloyd and Tomasov (1985) showed that the Gambusia in Australia are all G. holbrooki.

Description

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The male G. holbrooki is about 35 mm standard length whereas the female is larger (up to 60 mm) with a deeper body, the anal fin unmodified and when pregnant, a gravid spot is visible just above the vent (Lloyd, 1987). The fish are mostly translucent grey with a bluish sheen on their sides with a silver belly (Lloyd, 1987). The fins are colourless, with transverse rows of black spots. Some male mosquitofish have irregular black blotching, though some largely melanistic male individuals exist but are uncommon in their native range (Sterba, 1962) and are absent from Australia (Lloyd, 1987). On the male, the anal fin is modified to form a long, thin intromitent organ, the gonopodium, used for sperm transfer (Lloyd, 1990c). The body is slightly compressed with a large and flattened head. The eyes are large, and the mouth is small and terminal (Lloyd, 1987).

Distribution

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Mosquitofish have become the most widely distributed freshwater teleosts in the world (Krumholz, 1948) mainly through deliberate human introductions. The native range of G. affinis is throughout the Mississippi Basin and the tributaries to the northern Gulf of Mexico; G. holbrooki ranges from New Jersey in the east to the Gulf of Mexico and northern Florida.
 
The species (both G. affinis and G. holbrooki) have been introduced across the USA and much of southern Canada, parts of South America, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Many Pacific Islands, SE Asia, China, Japan, India, throughout Europe and the Middle East, South Africa, and parts of Northern Africa (Lloyd, 1987).
 
Because G. affinis and G. holbrooki were treated as subspecies of G. affinis prior to 1988, it is not always possible to discern which species is referred to in earlier literature. It was confirmed by Pyke (2005) that records across Australia were of G. holbrooki.

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

AfghanistanPresentIntroduced1970 Invasive Motabar, 1978
ArmeniaPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
BangladeshPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
CambodiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
ChinaPresentIntroduced1927 Invasive Fowler, 1970; Froese and Pauly, 2008
-Hong KongPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
Georgia (Republic of)PresentIntroduced1925 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
IndiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Das and Rampal, 1966; Froese and Pauly, 2008
-Jammu and KashmirPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
IndonesiaPresentIntroduced1929Froese and Pauly, 2008Not established
-Irian JayaPresentIntroduced1930 Invasive Glucksman and West, 1976
IranPresentIntroduced1928 Invasive Motabar, 1978
IraqPresentIntroduced1928 Invasive Al-Daham et al., 1977
IsraelPresentIntroduced1924 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
JapanPresentIntroduced1916 Invasive Sasa and Kurihara, 1980
JordanPresentIntroduced1930 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
KazakhstanPresentIntroduced1934 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
LaosPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
LebanonPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
MalaysiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
MyanmarPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
PakistanPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
PhilippinesPresentIntroduced1913 Invasive Seale, 1917
Saudi ArabiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
SingaporePresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
Sri LankaPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
SyriaPresentIntroduced Invasive Gerberich and Laird, 1968
TaiwanPresentIntroduced1911 Invasive Sasa and Kurihara, 1980
TajikistanPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
ThailandPresentIntroduced1919 Invasive Banpot, 2004
TurkeyPresentIntroduced1920 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
TurkmenistanPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
United Arab EmiratesPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
UzbekistanPresentIntroduced1930 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
VietnamPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
YemenPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008

Africa

Central African RepublicPresentIntroduced1958 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
Congo Democratic RepublicAl-Daham et al., 1977; Alemadi and Jenkins, 2007
Côte d'IvoirePresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
EgyptPresentIntroduced1929 Invasive Motabar, 1978
EthiopiaPresentIntroduced1938 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
GhanaPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
KenyaPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
MadagascarPresentIntroduced1929 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
MauritiusPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
MoroccoPresentIntroduced1929 Invasive Gerberich and Laird, 1968; Froese and Pauly, 2008
RéunionPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
Rodriguez IslandPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
South AfricaPresentIntroduced1936 Invasive Fowler, 1970; Froese and Pauly, 2008
Spain
-Canary IslandsPresentIntroduced1943 Invasive Krumholz, 1948
SudanPresentIntroduced1929 Invasive Motabar, 1978
ZambiaPresentIntroduced1940Froese and Pauly, 2008Not established
ZimbabwePresentIntroduced1925 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008

North America

CanadaPresentIntroduced1924 Invasive McAllister, 1969
MexicoPresentIntroduced1931 Invasive Gerberich and Laird, 1968; Froese and Pauly, 2008
USAPresentNativeFroese and Pauly, 2004
-FloridaPresentNordlie, 2000
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced1905 Invasive Seale, 1905
-MichiganPresentIntroduced1941 Invasive Krumholz, 1948
-UtahPresentIntroduced1927 Invasive Rees, 1934

Central America and Caribbean

HaitiPresentIntroduced1983 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
Puerto RicoPresentIntroduced1914 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008

South America

ArgentinaPresentIntroduced1943 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
BoliviaPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
ChilePresentIntroduced1937 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
PeruPresentIntroduced1940 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008

Europe

AlbaniaPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
AustriaPresentIntroduced Invasive Fowler, 1970
BulgariaPresentIntroduced1924 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
CyprusPresentIntroduced1926 Invasive Gerberich and Laird, 1968
FrancePresentIntroduced1924 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
-CorsicaPresentIntroduced1924 Invasive Gerberich and Laird, 1968
GermanyPresentIntroduced1921 Invasive Fowler, 1970
GreecePresentIntroduced1928 Invasive Motabar, 1978
HungaryPresentIntroduced1937 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
ItalyPresentIntroduced1922 Invasive Krumholz, 1948
PortugalPresentIntroduced1921 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
RomaniaPresentIntroduced1921 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
Russian FederationPresentIntroduced1925 Invasive Motabar, 1978
SpainPresentIntroducedFroese and Pauly, 2004
UkrainePresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
Yugoslavia (former)PresentIntroduced1924 Invasive Gerberich and Laird, 1968

Oceania

American SamoaPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
AustraliaPresentIntroducedFroese and Pauly, 2004; Pyke, 2005
-Australian Northern TerritoryLocalisedIntroduced1940 Invasive Lloyd, 1987; Lloyd, 1987
-New South WalesWidespreadIntroduced1926 Invasive Wilson, 1960
-QueenslandWidespreadIntroduced1925 Invasive Wilson, 1960
-South AustraliaWidespreadIntroduced1926 Invasive Lloyd, 1987
-TasmaniaLocalisedIntroduced1990s Invasive Keane and Francisco, 2004
-VictoriaWidespreadIntroduced1926 Invasive Lloyd, 1987
-Western AustraliaLocalisedIntroduced1934 Invasive Lloyd, 1987
Cook IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
FijiPresentIntroduced1930 Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
GuamPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
KiribatiPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
Marshall IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
New ZealandPresentIntroduced1930 Invasive Allen, 1956
Northern Mariana IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroduced1930 Invasive Glucksman and West, 1976
SamoaPresentIntroduced Invasive Froese and Pauly, 2008
Solomon IslandsPresentIntroduced1930 Invasive Glucksman and West, 1976

History of Introduction and Spread

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Mosquitofish have become the most widely distributed freshwater teleosts in the world (Krumholz, 1948) mainly through deliberate human introductions (e.g. Lintermans, 2004). Throughout the world, it has been widely distributed to aid mosquito control in rice paddies and natural waters (Krumholz, 1948; Lloyd et al., 1986; Arthington and Lloyd, 1989). Worldwide introduction of Gambusia has occurred since the first introduction into Hawaii in 1905 (Krumholz, 1948).
 
It is now known that G. holbrooki was introduced to Mediterranean Europe and Australia, whereas G. affinis was introduced outside its natural range to the western United States, Hawaii, and countries in Africa (Rehage and Sih, 2004).

G. holbrooki were first introduced to Brisbane in 1925 and Sydney the following year (Wilson, 1960). The distribution of the Australian populations has continued to expand through new invasions (such as Northern Tasmania) or in filling of locations within catchments. Gambusia was actively introduced by health authorities to new locations in Australia until the 1990s (Lloyd, 1987).

Only G. holbrooki has been identified in the current field records and museum collections that exist in Australia (Lloyd and Tomasov, 1985). Stocks of mosquitofish have been found in many isolated water bodies in central Australia, suggesting that natural events such as floods aid their dispersal (Lloyd, 1987; Chapman and Warburton, 2006). However, it is human activity that has most aided the dispersal of G. holbrooki, largely through projects aimed at mosquito control on a local, national and global scale (Arthington et al., 1983).

Risk of Introduction

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G. holbrooki is highly invasive because of its ability to move and colonise new habitats, its high fecundity, high survival of juveniles and rapid population growth (Moyle and Light, 1996; Williamson and Fitter, 1996; Alemadi and Jenkins, 2007). Mosquitofish can disperse through waters as shallow as 3 mm, which is only half of average body depth (Alemadi and Jenkins, 2007) and uses drains and natural channels to disperse between water bodies. Rehage and Sih (2004) link dispersal behaviour to the ‘invasiveness’ of a species, with G. affinis dispersing faster than G. holbrooki due to the movement of females into new territories. However, other important characteristics, such as fecundity, and maximum population growth rates suggest that G. holbrooki is ’a superior invader‘ (Rehage and Sih, 2004). Eastern mosquitofish can rapidly increase in population size due to their rapid maturation to breeding age (four weeks in summer) and high survival rate of young (Milton and Arthington, 1983; Lloyd et al., 1986; Lloyd, 1990a).

Habitat

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The native habitat of mosquitofish is the lowland ponds, lakes and streams of southern <_st13a_country-region _w3a_st="on"><_st13a_place _w3a_st="on">USA (Casterlin and Reynolds, 1977). Mosquitofish are particularly adapted to exploiting inundated floodplains (Ross and Baker, 1983). G. holbrooki is abundant in near-shore environments, close to dense vegetation, and prefers sluggish waters to running water (Lloyd, 1987). Other habitat preferences include: shallow water, dark-coloured substrata, and subsurface vegetation (providing lateral rather than vertical concealment) (Casterlin and Reynolds, 1977; Arthington and Marshall, 1999). They are very adaptable and will live in almost aquatic habitats from fresh to hyper-saline, cold temperate to tropical waters (and artificially heated waters), inland, coastal and estuarine waters, and both still and slow-flowing waters. The species does seem to be poorly adapted to fast flowing waters which inhibits its ability to develop large populations (Lloyd, 1987).

Habitat List

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CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Brackish
Estuaries Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Inland saline areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Lagoons Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Freshwater
Irrigation channels Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Lakes Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Ponds Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Reservoirs Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rivers / streams Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Littoral
Coastal areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Intertidal zone Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Mangroves Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Mud flats Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Salt marshes Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Marine
Inshore marine Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial-natural/semi-natural
Riverbanks Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Wetlands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

For more on the genetics of this species please see Yardley and Hubbs (1976) and Wooten et al. (1988).

Associations

Disturbed environments are prone to invasion from this species due to the fact that disturbed habitats can support large populations of invertebrate species (which tend to be pests, e.g. chironomids) and often lack other fish “due to harsh physical conditions” (Lloyd, 1987). Mosquitofish are typically more resistant to pollutants, including organic wastes, herbicides, insecticides, rotenone, phenols, heavy metals and radiation, than most other fish (Lloyd, 1987; Edwards, 2005). The ability of the species to survive genetic ‘bottle-necks’ and their ability to physiologically and genetically adapt to different environments is also important in their spread and success.

Environmental Requirements

Mosquitofish have invaded a wide range of habitats throughout the world including: hot springs, rivers, streams, lakes, swamps, billabongs, cooling pondages, rice fields, ornamental ponds, estuaries, near-shore marine habitats and salt lakes (Lloyd, 1987; Arthington and Lloyd, 1989).

Mosquitofish are found in waters from 0.5°C to 39°C, with a preference for warm waters of about 25°C (Otto, 1974), though Pyke (2005) suggests that mosquitofish prefer water temperatures between 31-35°C. Juvenile mosquitofish are more thermally tolerant than adults, allowing them to colonise and exploit warm patches of the environment with increasing growth, survival, and maturation rate. Mosquitofish can inhabit ice-covered waters (Hirose, 1976;Sasa and Kurihara, 1980) in Japan and hot bores (over 37°C) in central Australia (John Glover, personal communication, cited in Lloyd, 1987).

The broad salinity tolerance of mosquitofish allows them to colonise environments, such as salt lakes, estuaries, near coastal marine environments (Lloyd, 1987). The salinity LD50 for mosquitofish is more than 58g/L and they can tolerate direct transfers to salinity differences of up to seawater (35 g/L) with few mortalities (Chervinski, 1983).

Mosquitofish can tolerate oxygen concentrations as low as 1.3 mg/L, without access to surface water but can withstand virtual anoxia by utilising of the oxygen-rich surface water/air interface because it has a dorso-ventral mouth (Lewis, 1970).

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
A - Tropical/Megathermal climate Preferred Average temp. of coolest month > 18°C, > 1500mm precipitation annually
B - Dry (arid and semi-arid) Tolerated < 860mm precipitation annually
C - Temperate/Mesothermal climate Preferred Average temp. of coldest month > 0°C and < 18°C, mean warmest month > 10°C
D - Continental/Microthermal climate Tolerated Continental/Microthermal climate (Average temp. of coldest month < 0°C, mean warmest month > 10°C)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
50 40

Water Tolerances

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ParameterMinimum ValueMaximum ValueTypical ValueStatusLife StageNotes
Dissolved oxygen (mg/l) >1.3 Optimum
Salinity (part per thousand) <20 Optimum 0-58 tolerated
Velocity (cm/h) Optimum Gambusia prefer slow flowing waters to fast
Water temperature (ºC temperature) 25 31 Optimum 0.5-39 tolerated

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Glugea Parasite All Stages to genus Crandall and Bowser, 1982, recd. 1983
Goussia piekarskii Parasite All Stages to genus Lom and Dyková, 1995
Kudoa Parasite All Stages not specific Dyková et al., 1994

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Mosquitofish have become the most widely distributed freshwater teleosts in the world (Krumholz, 1948) mainly through deliberate human introductions (e.g. Lintermans, 2004). Throughout the world, G. holbrooki and G. affinis have been widely distributed to aid mosquito control in rice paddies and natural waters. (Krumholz, 1948; Lloyd et al., 1986; Arthington and Lloyd, 1989). Worldwide introduction of Gambusia has occurred since the first introduction into <_st13a_state _w3a_st="on"><_st13a_place _w3a_st="on">Hawaii in 1905 (Krumholz, 1948).

Gambusia are cited to be used in the commercial aquarium industry (www.fishbase.org) but poor sales are likely given its noxious status in many countries, its aggressive behaviour, and its poor appearance. They are likely to be under aquaculture in the <_st13a_country-region _w3a_st="on"><_st13a_place _w3a_st="on">USA for use for mosquito control in rice fields. Mosquito control authorities have been known to transfer mosquitofish between locations. Children may also collect mosquitofish for bait and help to distribute it when they move from one place to another.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Biological controlFor mosquito control Yes
Flooding and other natural disastersNatural spread once species is established Yes
Intentional releaseFor mosquito control Yes
Medicinal useFor mosquito control Yes
Military movementsFor mosquito control Yes
Pet trade Yes

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Biodiversity

In Australia, and possibly other parts of its introduced range, G. holbrooki faces few predators, parasites, diseases or competitors (Lloyd, 1987). Experiments have shown that several Australian native fish predators actively avoid eating this mosquitofish (Lloyd, 1987). 

Rehage et al. (2005a, b) suggest that invasive species of Gambusia (G. holbrooki and G. affinis) are more efficient foragers than their non-invasive relatives (G. geiseri and G. hispaniolae), and that invasive juveniles feed more voraciously and widely than adults. This study suggests that Gambusia, released from their native habitat and therefore native predators, increase in size, and accordingly, have a higher feeding rate which has a greater impact on native species.

Many studies in the USA and Australia have found significant habitat overlap between mosquitofish and native fish throughout all stages of their respective life cycles. These overlaps combined with the superior competitive ability of Gambusia mean that native fish may be lost from waters where Gambusia dominates (Schoenherr, 1974, 1981; Arthington et al., 1983; Lloyd et al., 1986; Lloyd 1987; Arthington, 1989; Arthington and Lloyd, 1989; Lloyd, 1990; Arthington and Marshall, 1999; Rincon et al., 2002; King, 2003; Pyke, 2005).
G. holbrooki is a voracious predator of invertebrates resulting in a possible increase in mosquito populations, as it targets insects, which are natural predators of mosquitoes. Willems et al. (2005) compared two different fish species on their predation of mosquitoes which found that Gambusia were not as effective as controlling mosquito larvae as the native fish in the study. Studies of small native fish and G. holbrooki diets in the River Murray in South Australia (Lloyd, 1987) showed that the eastern mosquitofish was a poor predator of mosquito larvae compared to most of the small native fish species. Ling (2004) showed that G. affinis may inhabit an unoccupied niche in New Zealand environments and a threat to native invertebrate grazers. G. holbrooki has been shown, through gut contents assessment, to be significant predators of native fish in Australia (Ivantsoff and Aarn, 1999). It can also have an impact on the tadpoles of native frogs (Sadlier and Pressey, 1994; Morgan and Buttemer, 1996; Komak and Crossland, 2000; Pyke and White, 2000). The reproductive rituals, breeding success and growth of native fishes can be impacted by gambusia (Howe et al., 1997).
 
Threatened Species

Gambusia occupy the specialized dystrophic habitats of one restricted and two endangered Australian freshwater fishes - Rhadinocentrus ornatusPseudomugil mellis, Nannoperca oxleyana (all found in South-eastern Queensland). It is possible that G. holbrooki and the three species interact and compete for habitat, food and spawning areas (Howe et al., 1997; Arthington and Marshall, 1999; Knight and Arthington, 2008).

 

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Nannoperca oxleyanaEN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered)
Poeciliopsis occidentalis (Gila topminnow)VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable) VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable); USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesQueenslandPredation
Pseudomugil mellisEN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered)QueenslandCompetition; Predation
Rhadinocentrus ornatusNo details No details

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
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Tolerant of shade
  • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Gregarious
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Reproduces asexually
  • Has high genetic variability
Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of natural benthic communities
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition
  • Pest and disease transmission
  • Predation
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Difficult/costly to control

Uses

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G. holbrooki and G. affinis have been introduced widely for mosquito control. They are used in the commercial aquarium industry (www.fishbase.org) but poor sales are likely given their noxious status in many countries, aggressive behaviour, and poor appearance.

Uses List

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Environmental

  • Biological control

General

  • Laboratory use
  • Pet/aquarium trade

Diagnosis

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Genetic techniques have been used to distinguish G. holbrooki and G. affinis in Australia.

For information on the morphology of G. holbrooki please see this species' factsheet on FishBase.

Prevention and Control

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Prevention

SPS measures

All of these measures have been applied to prevent the spread of Gambusia in Australia. The Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) has listed G. holbrooki as a high-risk species, highly likely to establish and spread more widely once introduced to new areas (Arthington et al., 1999). Predation by G. holbrooki has been listed as a key threatening process under the New South Wales Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. The inappropriate spread of Gambusia by humans for the purpose of mosquito control remains a problem in spite of repeated cautionary advice over the past 20 years (Arthington and Lloyd, 1989). Gambusia has been recognised as a potential vertebrate pest in Australia and as such should be managed under the edicts of vertebrate pest policies, programmes, and legislation (Bomford, 2001; Bomford and Glover, 2004).

Early warning systems

As eradication of fish after establishment as breeding populations is usually impossible, alien fish management should concentrate on preventing new introductions and limiting future spread (Lodge et al., 1998; Lodge and Shrader-Frechette, 2003). The resources to monitor and then act upon eradication of new populations are often limited. Involving the community in monitor­ing activities is one way to achieve early warning advice to management authorities. Involving the community provides people with a sense of ownership of the pest fish issue and an improved understanding of the complexities of managing alien fish species.

Rapid response

Not known to be a feature of Gambusia control but should be a first line of action (McDowall, 2004).

Public awareness

Gambusia is one of about 29 aquarium species listed as harmful to native fishes, invertebrates and aquatic ecosystem integrity in Australia (Arthington et al., 1999). Scientific publications, information papers, pamphlets and posters have all been used to inform the public about the dangers of alien fishes, especially those declared noxious under state and commonwealth legislation, or quarantine regulations such as those of the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS). Involving the community in monitor­ing activities provides people with a sense of ownership of the pest fish issue and an improved understanding of the complexities of managing alien fish species.

Eradication

Attempts have been made to eradicate G. holbrooki from water bodies using the fish poison rotenone. Most native fish are killed by a rotenone concentration of 0.5 ppm but Gambusia can survive this concentration without mortality (Pyke, 2005). Impacts on native fishes and other native fauna have been mitigated by releasing potassium permanganate downstream of the rotenone release point in flowing waterways. Gambusia is more tolerant of the organo-phosphorus pesticide Dursban™ than several native fishes (Pyke, 2005). These observations mean that chemical control methods are highly likely to affect native fish and other aquatic biota well before useful levels of gambusia mortality can be achieved.

Containment/Zoning

May be applicable to Gambusia, but no explicit information available.

Control

Cultural control and sanitary measures

It is well established that many exotic fishes flourish in disturbed habitats, even highly polluted ones in the case of Gambusia. It has been argued that maintaining the natural flow regime and habitat characteristics of aquatic systems should be an effective preventative measure, indeed a management principle (Arthington et al., 1990).

Physical/mechanical control

Gambusia species have been controlled to some extent by draining standing water bodies (especially outdoor ornamental ponds), and by cutting off the pathways for re-colonization (e.g. closing off access drains into and from ornamental ponds). Gambusia is highly invasive and can move through shallow water half their body depth. Barriers to spread must obstruct dispersal pathways (e.g. ditches and channels) as shallow as 3 mm to prevent local spread of Gambusia (Alemadi and Jenkins, 2007).

Movement control

Declaration of noxious status prohibits movement of Gambusia by humans in some countries (e.g. Australia). When Gambusia is collected as by-catch in ecological research programmes it must be disposed of immediately, never transported or introduced to any other water-body or taken to domestic aquaria.

Biological control

Factors limiting natural Gambusia populations (Courtenay and Meffe, 1989) may include endemic parasites and pathogens, as well as predators. Gambusia is reported to host at least 23 parasite species (LN Lloyd, cited in Arthington and Lloyd, 1989), however, most are not host specific. Pathogens may contribute to suppression of Gambusia, yet reliable data on their role are scarce. In April 2000 a fungal infection killed more than 80% of G. affinis in Lake Naini Tal, Uttaranchal, India (Nagdali and Gupta, 2002). Gambusia in its native range may be partially controlled by predators including topminnows of the genus Fundulus. However, there are no reports suggesting that, beyond its native range Gambusia is other than a minor constituent of the diet of piscivores, even other alien fish species such as trout. If Gambusia is a major part of fish diets in some locations then manipulation of aquatic food webs may provide a means to control Gambusia via predation pressure. Unmack (unpublished data) and others have observed that Gambusia and larger galaxiids rarely coexist and galaxiids eagerly devour Gambusia in aquaria. In small water-bodies diadromous galaxiids such as the common galaxiid (Galaxias maculatus) could be introduced at high densities to prey on Gambusia. However, after 2-4 years the galaxiids would die of old age, leaving opportunities for Gambusia to re-establish viable populations. Repeated releases of the galaxiid would be needed to sustain high Gambusia mortality.

Chemical control

Attempts have been made to reduce the abundance of G.holbrooki from water-bodies using the poison rotenone. Impacts on native fishes and other fauna have been mitigated by releasing potassium permanganate downstream of the release point in flowing waterways.

IPM

The integration of science (e.g. alien species biology) with applied management actions will improve environmental outcomes, yet there does not appear to be any example of an integrated management programme to control Gambusia.

Monitoring and Surveillance

The presence and abundance of Gambusia species are being monitored as part of formal stream and river health monitoring programs in Australia (e.g. Kennard et al., 2005).
 
Ecosystem Restoration
 
Scientists have long advocated that the maintenance of healthy, functional aquatic ecosystems and the natural processes that support native biodiversity is the best way to suppress alien fishes (Arthington et al., 1990), i.e. maintain ecosystem resistance and resilience. Damaged ecosystems could be restored in ways that are likely to suppress Gambusia, e.g. by protecting riparian corridors, minimizing habitat loss, restoring natural flow regimes or releasing environmental flows to flush out mosquitofish and so constrain their spread and population increase (e.g. Bunn and Arthington, 2002). Issues of alien species being moved about by inter-basin water transfers have been addressed by Todd et al. (2002).

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Links to Websites

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Gambusia control homepagehttp://www.gambusia.net

Contributors

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08/08/08 Original text by:

Angela Arthington, Australian Rivers Institute, Room 1.09A, Environ. 2, (Building N13), Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University, Nathan QLD 4111, Australia

Lance Lloyd, Lloyd Environmental Pty Ltd, PO Box 3014, Syndal, Victoria, 3149, Australia

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