, Volume 15, Issue 7, pp 1471-1491
Date: 07 Dec 2012

Spatiotemporal dynamics of the spread of African tilapias (Pisces: Oreochromis spp.) into rivers of northeastern Mesoamerica

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Abstract

African tilapias (Oreochromis spp.) occur in more than 100 countries outside of their native ranges and research on their invasions is largely lacking. We investigated spatiotemporal patterns of tilapia spread into 29 drainage basins in Belize and parts of Guatemala and Mexico, drawing on field data and interviews with fishermen. Habitat-suitability models for tilapias were created from geospatial and species occurrence data, and fishermen interviews were used to reconstruct the chronology of tilapia spread into predicted suitable habitats. Tilapia (predominantly Nile tilapia, O. niloticus) presence was confirmed at 78 sites in 9 of 29 drainage basins. Our habitat-suitability model predicted that 7,510 linear km of river habitat in the study area were vulnerable to colonization by tilapias, predominately in mid- to low elevation main stem rivers, from sea level to 277 m above sea level. The reconstructed spatial chronology of spread showed that the invasion started in 1990 and progressed slowly (2 km yr−1) through an establishment phase before rapid expansion (~30 km yr−1) between 1996 and 2002, after which new detections slowed. Human movement of fish for aquaculture was identified as a primary cause of dispersal that interacted with flooding as an important secondary cause. The shortest paths across low elevation drainage divides between major basins revealed several potential corridors for future tilapia spread during flooding. Research into tilapia spatial metapopulation structure and economic fisheries status, more stringent regulation of aquaculture activities, pro-active fisheries management, and development of policies to screen potentially invasive species before importation are recommended to avoid additional releases of tilapia and further spread in the region.