Original Research

River hydrology mediates fish invasions in Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa

Darragh J. Woodford, Josie South, Lubabalo Mofu, Josephine Pegg
Koedoe | Vol 66, No 1 | a1806 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v66i1.1806 | © 2024 Darragh J. Woodford, Josie South, Lubabalo Mofu, Josephine Pegg | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 December 2023 | Published: 20 May 2024

About the author(s)

Darragh J. Woodford, Centre for Invasion Biology (C·I·B), School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; and South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, Makhanda, South Africa
Josie South, South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, Makhanda, South Africa; and Centre for Invasion Biology (C·I·B), School of Biology, Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom
Lubabalo Mofu, South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, Makhanda, South Africa
Josephine Pegg, South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, Makhanda, South Africa; and Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science, Rhodes University, Makhanda, South Africa

Abstract

Invasive freshwater fish can often have severe negative effects on native fishes in river systems. The interactions between hydrology and habitat variability can mediate the speed and success of individual invasions and the consequent impact on biodiversity. The rivers within Addo Elephant National Park (AENP) in the Eastern Cape, South Africa experience cyclical droughts and wet periods and as a result are naturally episodic. These rivers were recently invaded by three non-native species, the invasive largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) as well as the extralimital sharptooth catfish (Clarias gariepinus) and Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus). Monitoring of key sampling sites along two rivers over a 12-year period that included two major droughts revealed unexpected patterns in the spread of these species and their interactions with native fishes. On the Coerney River, C. gariepinus repeatedly invaded and was extirpated from a seasonal reach of the river, wherein O. mossambicus was only occasionally captured. On the Wit River, two apparently independent introductions of M. salmoides in the lower and upper reaches of the river resulted in patchy habitat occupancy over the course of 12 years. While C. gariepinus regularly co-occurred with native species, M. salmoides appeared to locally extirpate the endangered Eastern Cape redfin (Pseudobarbus afer). During drought, both species persisted in close but disconnected pools, suggesting that the episodic hydrology and geomorphology of these rivers may offer temporary predation refugia for native species during drought.

Conservation implications: Drought in episodic rivers can mitigate against the impact and spread of freshwater invasions within protected areas. Effects of drying on invasion corridors and spatial interactions with native species should be taken into consideration when managing such invasions. Severe droughts also offer an opportunity to actively control invasive species when they are confined to accessible drought refugia within the protected area.


Keywords

biological invasions; freshwater fishes; drought; dewatering; river connectivity; intermittent rivers; invasion corridors; predatory exclusion

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 14: Life below water

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