Biological Invasions

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 71–84

Rapid evolution of an established feral tilapia (Oreochromis spp.): the need to incorporate invasion science into regulatory structures


  • Barry A. Costa-Pierce
    • Rhode Island Sea Grant College Program, Graduate School of Oceanography, Department of Fisheries, Animal and Veterinary ScienceUniversity of Rhode Island

DOI: 10.1023/A:1024094606326

Cite this article as:
Costa-Pierce, B.A. Biological Invasions (2003) 5: 71. doi:10.1023/A:1024094606326


Outside of Asia exotic tilapiine fishes (Trewavas 1983) were not imported directly as native genetic resources from Africa but arrived as transits from third or fourth party sources. Founder populations of exotic tilapia species may be morphologically and meristically distinct in Africa but are still reproductively compatible due to their relatively recent divergence. As a result, feral tilapias have hybridized and introgressed in aquaculture settings before escaping to the wild. Reproductively viable hybrids have resulted, making the use of conventional systematics based upon external morphometric characterizations for species determinations useless. Microsatellite DNA marker studies of 139 tilapia from 10 locations (6 feral, 4 in culture) in southern California, USA, were conducted. Genetic similarities to a worldwide tilapia genetic database were compared by formulating a neighbor-joining dendrogram. The hypothesis that the pattern found arose by chance was tested by bootstrap resampling of 4 microsatellite loci at the 95% level of significance. A significant number of bootstrap re-samples showed that a tilapia species in aquaculture and a feral Colorado River tilapia population were 'monophyletic', meaning they originated from a single source relative to the total variation in the data. A significant number of bootstrap re-samples grouped these two populations with the reference populations of Oreochromis niloticus taken worldwide. This 'niloticus' group was found significantly distinct from a second large grouping that included all of the other California tilapia samples and a large group of O. mossambicus reference samples taken from a worldwide database. Any regulatory structure attempting to control movements of exotic tilapias based upon discerning 'species' using morphometric and meristic measurements of tilapias is inadequate. California, for example, does not permit O. niloticus for aquaculture, but the genetic signature for this species exists in feral stocks collected from the wild in California. There are likely many other places where a certain tilapia `species' are not permitted but the genetic material exists in established wild stocks within its political jurisdiction. It is recommended that a system of ecotypes (code names) based upon presence of unique DNA microsatellite markers be developed to label and regulate feral tilapia strains, and that hybrid strains be collected into a 'registry' of species based upon unique DNA markers. Such a registry could be used by regulators to better manage exotic tilapias and aquaculture developments.

CaliforniadivergenceDNA markersevolutioninvasion historiesregulations for exotic speciestilapiatilapiine fishes

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003