Life on the edge: hydrogen sulfide and the fish communities of a Mexican cave and surrounding waters
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- Tobler, M., Schlupp, I., Heubel, K.U. et al. Extremophiles (2006) 10: 577. doi:10.1007/s00792-006-0531-2
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Most eucaryotic organisms classified as living in an extreme habitat are invertebrates. Here we report of a fish living in a Mexican cave (Cueva del Azufre) that is rich in highly toxic H2S. We compared the water chemistry and fish communities of the cave and several nearby surface streams. Our study revealed high concentrations of H2S in the cave and its outflow (El Azufre). The concentrations of H2S reach more than 300 μM inside the cave, which are acutely toxic for most fishes. In both sulfidic habitats, the diversity of fishes was heavily reduced, and Poecilia mexicana was the dominant species indicating that the presence of H2S has an all-or-none effect, permitting only few species to survive in sulfidic habitats. Compared to habitats without H2S, P. mexicana from the cave and the outflow have a significantly lower body condition. Although there are microhabitats with varying concentrations of H2S within the cave, we could not find a higher fish density in areas with lower concentrations of H2S. We discuss that P. mexicana is one of the few extremophile vertebrates. Our study supports the idea that extreme habitats lead to an impoverished species diversity.