Temporal trends in stream-fish distributions, and species traits as invasiveness drivers in New River (USA) tributaries
Biological invasions represent both an urgent conservation problem and an opportunity to advance ecological theory. Development of pertinent research questions and proactive management strategies require knowledge of which introduced species are present and of spatiotemporal trends in the distribution of natives and invaders. In Chapter 2 we developed a quantitative framework to identify spreaders and decliners and estimate invasion chronologies based on a historical fish presence data set for upper and middle New River (UMNR) tributaries. Our framework accounts for spatiotemporal variability in sampling effort by aggregating presences by watershed and expressing range size as a function of the number of watersheds sampled per time period. The majority (55%) of fish species present in the study area were introduced, 51% of which were spreaders. Most spreaders (84%) appeared to be spreading exponentially. The rate of new introductions detected in the study area has slowed since the mid-20th century. Two natives, the mound-spawning bluehead chub Nocomis leptocephalus and its strong nest associate (reproductive mutualist), mountain redbelly dace Chrosomus oreas, were among the most rapid spreaders. Four natives showed evidence of decline. Our framework leverages historical presence data to reconstruct temporal trends in species distributions. It sets the stage for further study of factors driving stream fish invasions and declines in the Appalachian region, and is transferable to diverse taxonomic groups and geographic regions.
Species traits and human activities mediating stream-fish invasions remain poorly understood. In Chapter 3 we modeled the contribution of species traits to invasion success of UMNR tributary fishes during the colonization and spread stages. Biological traits accurately explained colonization and spread success, whereas ecological traits resulted in less accurate models. Colonization success was positively related to time since introduction, benthic feeding, an equilibrium life history, and nest spawning. Successful spread was positively related to winter air temperature in the native range and an equilibrium life history. Variables estimating human use and propagule pressure were non-informative. Traits that influenced invasion success were consistent with the hypothesis that human land-use practices have increased the invasibility of highland watersheds by creating novel conditions suited to lowland and equilibrium invaders.