Experimental evidence for the use of artificial refugia to mitigate the impacts of invasive Gambusia holbrooki on an endangered fish

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Habitat degradation has a major impact on freshwater ecosystems and also facilitates biological invasions thus intensifying the problem. The survival of native species under threat from invaders can be improved either by eradicating the invading species or by providing resources or conditions that benefit the native species. One such resource is shelter and in degraded habitats artificial refugia may be a viable option. However, the use of artificial refugia to promote coexistence between native and invasive species remains poorly understood. We assessed the potential for artificial refugia to ameliorate the disruption of social interactions in an endangered native Iberian toothcarp, Aphanius iberius, by the invasive mosquitofish, Gambusia holbrooki. We found that mosquitofish do not compete for access to refugia despite their higher level of aggression compared to native fish. Native fish use refugia more overall, particularly in the presence of mosquitofish. Despite this, the benefits of refugia are not clear cut: increases in refuge use by male toothcarp induced by mosquitofish aggression correspond to decreases in attention to conspecifics. However, changes in refugia use over time together with constant attention to conspecifics indicates that it is not refugia use itself that disrupts social interactions but the interrelated effects of mosquitofish aggression. Provision of artificial refugia in degraded freshwater ecosystems may thus be a viable management tool to protect native populations under imminent threat of invasion ​
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