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Run to the hills: exotic fish invasions and water quality degradation drive native fish to higher altitudes

By Marco Milardi, Vassilis Aschonitis, Anna Gavioli, Mattia Lanzoni, Elisa Anna Fano and Giuseppe Castaldelli


While the significance of anthropogenic pressures in shaping species distributions and abundances is undeniable, some ambiguity still remains on their relative magnitude and interplay with natural environmental factors. In our study, we examined 91 late-invasion-stage river locations in Northern Italy using ordination methods and variance partitioning (partial-CCA), as well as an assessment of environmental thresholds (TITAN), to attempt to disentangle the effects of eutrophication and exotic species on native species. We found that exotic species, jointly with water quality (primarily eutrophication) and geomorphology, are the main drivers of the distribution of native species and that native species suffer more joint effects than exotic species. We also found that water temperature clearly separates species distributions and that some native species, like Italian bleak (Alburnus alborella) and Italian rudd (Scardinius hesperidicus), seem to be the most resilient to exotic fish species. We also analyzed the dataset for nestedness (BINMATNEST) to identify priority targets of conservation. As a result, we confirmed that altitude correlated negatively with eutrophication and nestedness of exotic species and positively with native species. Overall, our analysis was able to detect the effects of species invasions even at a late invasion stage, although reciprocal effects seemed comparable at this stage. Exotic species have pushed most native species on the edge of local extinction in several sites and displaced most of them on the rim of their natural distribution. Any potential site- and species-specific conservation action aimed at improving this situation could benefit from a carefully considered prioritization to yield the highest results-per-effort and success rate. However, we encourage future research to update the information available before singling out specific sites for conservation or outlining conservation actions

Topics: Anthropogenic stressors, Biodiversity conservation, Eutrophication, Exotic invasions, Inland waters, Environmental Engineering, Environmental Chemistry, Waste Management and Disposal, Pollution
Year: 2018
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.12.237
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