Angry when outnumbered: aggressive Gambusia

Angry when outnumbered: aggressive Gambusia

Introduced to Australia in 1925 as a potential mosquito control agent, Eastern gambusia (Gambusia holbrooki) is now present in almost every major Australian drainage basin, including the Murray-Darling Basin. Eastern gambusia are extremely aggressive, often harassing, eating and attacking native fishes as well as many amphibians and invertebrates. This project explored in aquaria how the aggressiveness of Eastern gambusia changed according to the relative abundance of two native fish species (Carp Gudgeon, Hypseleotris spp.) and juvenile Golden perch, (Macquaria ambigua ambigua). The project was designed to improve understanding of how Eastern gambusia might behave when it colonises new areas and how behavioural responses might be affected by efforts to control their numbers.

Key messages

The study found that Eastern gambusia were highly aggressive towards both species of native fish and that aggressiveness increased when they were outnumbered by native fishes. The study also found that the type of aggressive behaviour by Eastern gambusia (e.g. biting or chasing) was specific to the native species it was interacting with. Eastern gambusia were shown to dominate the available habitat within the tank very shortly after introduction. The high aggression and dominance behaviour exhibited by Eastern gambusia when outnumbered may aid invasions of this species into new habitats, and may also provide useful clues on possible approaches for eradication of this invasive species.

Implications for native fish

The increased aggression by Gambusia when outnumbered potentially means that control efforts that reduce the abundance of Gambusia (that don’t fully eradicate them) may not be beneficial to native fish in some cases. The research suggested that aggressive interactions from Gambusia may not decrease as a result of control efforts.


Project MD1224 – Gambusia Aggression

Pink, J., Moore, A., Starrs, T., Lintermans, M. & Fulton, C. Angry when outnumbered: Behavioural aggression in Gambusia holbrooki is conditional upon temperature and relative abundance. Australian National University, Canberra

Willems, K.J., Webb, C.E. and Russell, R.C. (2005). A comparison of mosquito predation by the fish Pseudomugil signifier (Kner) and Gambusia holbrooki (Girard) in laboratory trials. Journal of Vector Ecology, 30, 87-90.

Ivantsoff, W. and Aarn (1999). Detection of predation on Australian native fishes by Gambusia holbrooki. Marine and Freshwater Research, 50, 467-468.

Ansell, D. and Jackson, P. 2007. Emerging issues in Alien Fish Management in the Murray-Darling Basin: Statement, recommendations and supporting papers. Canberra, Murray-Darling Basin Commission.

Agtrans Research (2005). Review of progress on invasive species. Final report to the Department of Environment and Heritage, Brisbane, Queensland.

Alcaraz, et al 2008. Salinity mediates the competitive interactions between invasive mosquitofish and an endangered fish. Oecologia 155, 205-213.

Alcaraz, C. and García-Berthou, E. (2007). Life history variation of invasive mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) along a salinity gradient. Biological Conservation 132, 83-92.

Arthington, A. H. (1991). Ecological and genetic impacts of introduced and translocated freshwater fishes in Australia. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 48, 33-43.

Arthington, A. H. and Lloyd L. N. (1989). Introduced Poeciliids in Australia and New Zealand. In Ecology and evolution of livebearing fishes (Poeciliidae). (Meffe, G. K. and Snelson, F. F. Jnr., Eds.), pp. 333-348, Prentice-Hall, Inc., New Jersey.

Arthington, A. H. and Marshall, C. J. (1999). Diet of the exotic mosquitofish, Gambusia holbrooki, in an Australian lake and potential for competition with indigenous fish species. Asian Fisheries Science 12, 1-16.

Becker, A., Laurenson, L. J. B., Jones, P. L. and Newman, D. M. (2005). Competitive interactions between the Australian native fish Galaxias maculatus and the exotic mosquitofish Gambusia holbrooki, in a series of laboratory experiments. Hydrobiologia 549, 187-196.

Breen, A. (2000). Density dependent interference competition between the exotic poeciliid Gambusia holbrooki (Girard, 1859) and the Australian native melanotaeniid Rhadinocentrus ornatus (Regan, 1914). Unpublished Honours thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore.

Chapman, P. and Warburton, K. (2006). Postflood movements and population connectivity in gambusia. Ecology of Freshwater Fish 15, 357-365.

Conte, S. (2001). An investigation of density-dependant interference competition between the exotic poeciliid Gambusia holbrooki (Girard, 1859) and the Australian native fish Hypseleotris galii (Ogilby, 1903). Unpublished Honours thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore.

Courtenay, W. R. J. and Meffe, G. K. (1989). Small fishes in strange places: a review of introduced poeciliids. In Ecology and evolution of livebearing fishes (Poeciliidae). (Meffe, G. K. and Snelson, F. F. Jnr., Eds.), pp. 319-332. Prentice-Hall, Inc., New Jersey.

Cronin, A. (2001). Aggressive interaction by the introduced poeciliid Gambusia holbrooki on two native freshwater species, the firetail gudgeon Hypseleotris galii and the Oxleyan pygmy perch Nannoperca oxleyana. Unpublished Honours thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore.

Elkington, S. (2004). Eradication of Gambusia (Gambusia affinis) and koi carp (Cyprinus carpio) from the Nelson/Marlborough Conservancy. Department of Conservation Te Papa Atewhai, Nelson.

Freeman, R. (2007). Tamar Estuary, Gambusia Eradication. Internal Report, Inland Fisheries Service, Hobart.

García-Berthou, E. (1999). Food of introduced mosquitofish: ontogenetic diet shift and prey selection. Journal of Fish Biology 55, 135-147.

Gill, H. S., Hambleton, S. J. and Morgan, D. L. (1999). Is the mosquitofish, Gambusia holbrooki (Poeciliidae), a major threat to the native freshwater fishes of south-western Australia? In Proceedings of the 5th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference, 1997. (Seret, B. and Sire, J.-Y. Eds.), pp. 393-403. Societé Française d’Ichthyologie, Paris.

Goodsell, J. A. and Kats, L. B. (1999). Effect of introduced mosquitofish on Pacific treefrogs and the role of alternative prey. Conservation Biology 13, 921-924.

Hamer, A.J., Lane, S.L. and Mahony, M.J. (2002). The role of introduced mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) in excluding the native green and golden bell frog (Litoria aurea) from original habitats in south-eastern Australia. Oecologia, 132:445-452.

Howe, E., Howe, C., R., L. and Burchett, M. (1997). Impact of the introduced poeciliid Gambusia holbrooki (Girard, 1859) on the growth and reproduction of Pseudomugil signifer (Kner, 1865) in Australia. Marine and Freshwater Research 48, 425-434.

Hurlbert, S. H., Zedler, J. and Fairbanks, D. (1972). Ecosystem alteration by Mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) predation. Science 175, 639-641.

Karolak, S. (2006). Alien Fish in the Murray-Darling Basin. MDBC publication No. 03/06. Murray- Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.

Keane, J. P. and Neira, F. J. (2004). First record of mosquitofish, Gambusia holbrooki, in Tasmania, Australia: stock structure and reproductive biology. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 38, 857-867.

Keller, K. and Brown, C. (2008). Behavioural interactions between the introduced plague minnow Gambusia holbrooki and the vulnerable native Australian ornate rainbowfish Rhadinocentrus ornatus, under experimental conditions. Journal of Fish Biology 73, 1714-1729.

Koehn, J.D. and MacKenzie, R.F. (2004). Priority management actions for alien freshwater fish species in Australia. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater, 38, 457-472.

Komak, S. and Crossland, M. R. (2000). An assessment of the introduced mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis holbrooki) as a predator of eggs, hatchlings and tadpoles of native and non-native anurans. Wildlife Research 27, 185-189.

Koster, W. M. (1997). A study of the interactions between dwarf galaxias (Galaxiella pusilla), southern pygmy perch (Nannoperca australis) and eastern Gambusia (Gambusia holbrooki). B. Sc. Honours thesis, Deakin University, Clayton.

Laha, M. and Mattingly, H. T. (2007). Ex situ evaluation of impacts of invasive mosquitofish on the imperilled Barrens topminnow. Environmental Biology of Fishes 78, 1-11.

Pyke, G. H. (2005). A review of thP biology of Gambusia affinis and G. holbrooki. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 15, 339-365.

Pyke, G. H. (2008). Plague minnow or mosquito fish? A review of the biology and impacts of introduced Gambusia species. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 39, 171-191.

Rehage, J. S., Barnett, B. K. and Sih, A. (2005). Foraging behaviour and invasiveness: do invasive Gambusia exhibit higher feeding rates and broader diets than their non-invasive relatives? Ecology of Freshwater Fish 14, 352-360.

Rowe, D. K., Smith, J. P. and Baker, C. (2007). Agonistic interactions between Gambusia affinis and Galaxias maculatus: implications for whitebait fisheries in New Zealand rivers. Journal of Applied Ichthyology 23, 668–674.

Warburton, K. and Madden, C. (2003). Behavioural responses of two native Australian fish species (Melanotaenia duboulayi and Pseudomugil signifer) to introduced Poeciliids (Gambusia holbrooki and Xiphophorus helleri) in controlled conditions. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 124, 115-123.

Warburton, K., Retif, S. and Hume, D. (1998). Generalists as sequential specialists: diets and preyswitching in juvenile silver perch. Environmental Biology of Fishes 51, 445-454.

Webb, C. and Joss, J. (1997). Does predation by the fish Gambusia holbrooki (Atheriniformes: Poeciliidae) contribute to declining frog populations. Australian Zoologist 30, 316-324.

The following two tabs change content below.


Finterest provides you with access to the latest research, science and stories about native and introduced fish in Australia.

Latest posts by Finterest (see all)

Leave a comment: