Invasive species and habitat degradation in Iberian streams: an analysis of their role in freshwater fish diversity loss

Hermoso, Virgilio
Clavero Pineda, Miguel
Blanco Garrido, Francisco
Prenda, José
Mediterranean endemic freshwater fish are among the most threatened biota in the world. Distinguishing the role of different extinction drivers and their potential interactions is crucial for achieving conservation goals. While some authors argue that invasive species are a main driver of native species declines, others see their proliferation as a co-occurring process to biodiversity loss driven by habitat degradation. It is difficult to discern between the two potential causes given that few invaded ecosystems are free from habitat degradation, and that both factors may interact in different ways. Here we analyze the relative importance of habitat degradation and invasive species in the decline of native fish assemblages in the Guadiana River basin (southwestern Iberian Peninsula) using an information theoretic approach to evaluate interaction pathways between invasive species and habitat degradation (structural equation modeling, SEM). We also tested the possible changes in the functional relationships between invasive and native species, measured as the per capita effect of invasive species, using ANCOVA. We found that the abundance of invasive species was the best single predictor of natives’ decline and had the highest Akaike weight among the set of predictor variables examined. Habitat degradation neither played an active role nor influenced the per capita effect of invasive species on natives. Our analyses indicated that downstream reaches and areas close to reservoirs had the most invaded fish assemblages, independently of their habitat degradation status. The proliferation of invasive species poses a strong threat to the persistence of native assemblages in highly fluctuating environments. Therefore, conservation efforts to reduce native freshwater fish diversity loss in Mediterranean rivers should focus on mitigating the effect of invasive species and preventing future invasions ​
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