Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 94, Issue 4, pp 669–680 | Cite as

Habitat and life history differences between two species of Gambusia

  • Daniella M. Swenton
  • Astrid Kodric-Brown


Life history strategies reflect trade-offs that tend to maximize fitness, such as investment in a few large or many small offspring. We compared life histories of two temperate livebearing fishes Gambusia affinis and G. nobilis, an endangered species which is virtually unstudied. The two species persist in environments that differ widely in abiotic and biotic factors in the same local area. Gambusia affinis were typically found in habitats with high productivity and wide fluctuations in temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen, whereas G. nobilis occurred in more stable spring-fed habitats. We collected data on life-history traits: embryo mass, brood size (number of embryos), total maternal reproductive effort, population sex ratios, and size (mass and length) distributions of adults and juveniles. There was no difference between species in reproductive effort per brood, but they differed in investment strategy. Gambusia affinis females produced large broods with small embryos, whereas G. nobilis females produced broods of fewer, larger embryos. These differences in life history strategies reflect a tradeoff between individual productivity and differential mortality rates in different environments. At our field site G. affinis persists as an annual species with relatively high growth rates and corresponding reproductive patterns, whereas G. nobilis females have a slower reproductive tempo and may live multiple years.


Gambusia affinis Gambusia nobilis Life history Reproductive investment 



We thank J.A, Baker, E.L. Charnov and J.C. Trexler for comments on the conceptual presentation of this work. J.H. Brown, M.J. Ryan, and B.O. Wolf provided editorial comments on the manuscript. L. Snyder, T. Kennedy C.L. Hayes, A. Hung, S. Netz, A. Olson and G. Warrick assisted with data collection. This work was funded by a grant through the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Share with Wildlife Program to A. Kodric-Brown and D. Swenton, and a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, an Alvin and Caroline Groves Research Scholarship (UNM Biology Department), Crawford Scholarship (UNM Biology Department), SRAC grant (UNM Graduate and Professional Student Association, Student Resource Allocations Committee) and GRAC grant (UNM Biology Department, Graduate Resource Allocations Committee) to D. Swenton. Experiments were conducted in accordance with University of New Mexico (UNM) Institutional Animal Care and Use Protocol number 04MCC006. Gambusia nobilis, a federally endangered species, were acquired, maintained and tested in accordance with NM state permit 2968 and federal permit TE676811-0.


  1. Alcaraz C, García-Berthou E (2007) Life history variation of an invasive fish (Gambusia holbrooki) along a salinity gradient. Biol Cons 139:83–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baird SF, Girard C (1853) Descriptions of new species of fishes collected by Mr. John H. Clark, on the U.S. and Mexican boundary survey, under Lt. Col. Jas. D. Graham. Proc Acad Nat Sci Phila 6:387–390Google Scholar
  3. Benoît HP, Post JR, Barbet AD (2000) Recruitment dynamics and size structure in experimental populations of the mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis. Copeia 2000:216–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Borowsky RL (1984) The evolutionary genetics of Xiphophorus. In: Turner BJ (ed) Evolutionary genetics of fishes. Plenum Press, New York, pp 235–310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Charnov EL, Warne R, Moses M (2007) Lifetime reproductive effort. Am Nat 170:E129–E142PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Courtenay WR Jr, Meffe GK (1989) Small fishes in strange places: A review of introduced poeciliids. In: Meffe GK, Snelson FF Jr (eds) Ecology and evolution of livebearing fishes (Poeciliidae). Prentice Hall, New Jersey, pp 319–331Google Scholar
  7. Coyne JA, Orr HA (2004) Speciation. Sinauer Associates, SunderlandGoogle Scholar
  8. Crivelli AJ (1995) Are fish introductions a threat to endemic fresh-water fishes in the northern Mediterranean region? Biol Cons 72:311–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. de Leon JLP, Rodriguez R, Acosta M, Uribe MC (2011) Egg size and its relationship with fecundity, newborn length and female size in Cuban poeciliid fishes (Teleostei: Cyprinodontiformes). Ecol Fresh Fish 20:243–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dionne M (1985) Cannibalism, food availability, and reproduction in the mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis): a laboratory experiment. Am Nat 126:16–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Downhower JF, Brown LP, Matsui ML (2000) Life history variation in female Gambusia hubbsi. Environ Biol Fishes 58:415–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Echelle AA, Echelle AF (1980) Status of the Pecos Gambusia, G. nobilis. Endangered Species Report No. 10:1-73, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque, New MexicoGoogle Scholar
  13. Echelle AF, Echelle AA (1986) Geographic variation in morphology of a spring-dwelling desert fish, Gambusia nobilis (Poeciliidae). Southwest Nat 31:459–468CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Farr JA, Travis J (1986) Fertility advertisement by female sailfin mollies, Poeciliia latipinna (Pisces: Poeciliidae). Copeia 1986:467–472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Galat DL, Robertson B (1992) Response of endangered Poeciliopsis-occidentalis sonoriensis in the Rio-Yaqui drainage, Arizona, to introduced Gambusia affinis. Environ Biol Fishes 33:249–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hochachka PW, Somero GN (1984) Biochemical adaptation. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  17. Hubbs C (1991) Intrageneric “cannibalism” in Gambusia. Southwest Nat 36:153–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hubbs C (1999) Effect of light intensity on brood production of livebearers Gambusia spp. Trans Am Fish 128:747–750CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hubbs C (2001) Environmental correlates to the abundance of spring-adapted versus stream-adapted fishes. Tex J Sci 53:299–326Google Scholar
  20. Hubbs C, Springer VG (1957) A revision of the Gambusia nobilis species group, with descriptions of three new species, and notes on their variation, ecology and evolution. Tex J Sci 9:279–327Google Scholar
  21. Kallman KD (1975) The platyfish, Xiphophorus maculatus. In: King RC (ed) Handbook of genetics, vol 4. Plenum Publishing Corporation, New York, pp 81–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Krumholz LA (1948) Reproduction in the western mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis affinis (Baird and Girard), and its use in mosquito control. Ecol Mono 18:1–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Langerhans RB, Layman CA, Shokrollahi AM, DeWitt TJ (2004) Predator-driven phenotypic diversification in Gambusia affinis. Evolution 58:2305–2318PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Meffe GK (1985) Life history patterns of Gambusia marshi (Poeciliidae) from Cuatro Ciénegas, Mexico. Copeia 1985:898–905CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Meffe GK, Snelson FF Jr (1989) An ecological overview of poeciliid fishes. In: Meffe GK, Snelson FF Jr (eds) Ecology and evolution of livebearing fishes (Poeciliidae). Prentice Hall, New Jersey, pp 13–31Google Scholar
  26. Pyke GH (2005) A review of the biology of Gambusia affinis and G. holbrooki. Rev Fish Bio Fish 15:339–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Reisch R, Plath M, de León FJG, Schlupp I (2010) Convergent life-history shifts: toxic environments result in big babies in two clades of poeciliids. Naturewissenschaften 97:133–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Reznick DN (1982) The impact of predation on life history evolution in Trinidadian guppies: genetic basis of observed life history patterns. Evolution 36:1236–1250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Reznick DN (1983) The structure of guppy life histories: the tradeoff between growth and reproduction. Ecology 64:862–873CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Reznick DN, Endler JA (1982) The impact of predation on life history evolution in Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata). Evolution 36:160–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Reznick DN, Bryga H (1987) Life-history evolution in guppies (Poecilia reticulata): 1. Phenotypic and genetic changes in an introduction experiment. Evolution 41:1370–1385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Reznick DN, Ghalambor CK, Crooks K (2008) Experimental studies of evolution in guppies: a model for understanding the evolutionary consequences of predator removal in natural communities. Mol Ecol 17:97–107PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rodd FH, Reznick DN (1997) Variation in the demography of guppy populations: the importance of predation and life histories. Ecology 78:405–418Google Scholar
  34. Rosen DE, Bailey RM (1963) The poeciliid fishes (Cyprinodontiformes), their structure, zoogeography and systematics. Bull Am Mus Nat Hist 126:1–176Google Scholar
  35. Rundle HD, Nosil P (2005) Ecological speciation. Ecol Lett 8:336–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Schluter D (2000) Ecological character displacement in adaptive radiation. Am Nat 156:S4–S16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Scribner KT, Avise JC (1994) Population cage experiments with a vertebrate: the temporal demography and cytonuclear genetics of hybridization in Gambusia fishes. Evolution 48:155–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Smith RB (1986) The effect of food on reproduction in the sailfin molly, Poecilia latipinna (Poeciliidae). M. S. Thesis, University of Central FloridaGoogle Scholar
  39. Snelson FF Jr (1989) Social and environmental control of life history traits in poeciliid fishes. In: Meffe GK, Snelson FF Jr (eds) Ecology and evolution of livebearing fishes (Poeciliidae). Prentice Hall, New Jersey, pp 149–161Google Scholar
  40. Stearns SC (1977) The evolution of life history traits: a critique of the theory and a review of the data. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 8:145–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Stearns SC (1983) A natural experiment in life-history evolution: field data on the introduction of mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) to Hawaii. Evolution 37:601–617CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Stearns SC (1992) The evolution of life histories. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  43. Trexler J (1997) Resource availability and plasticity in offspring provisioning: embryo nourishment in sailfin mollies. Ecology 78:1370–1381CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Vondracek B, Wurtsbaugh WA, Cech JJ Jr (1988) Growth and reproduction of the mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis, in relation to temperature and ration level: consequences for life history. Environ Biol Fishes 21:45–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Walsh MR, Reznick DN (2008) Interactions between the direct and indirect effects of predators determine life history evolution in a killifish. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105:594–599PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wischnath L (1993) Atlas of livebearers of the world. Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications, Inc., Neptune CityGoogle Scholar
  47. Worm B, Lotze HK, Hillebrand H, Sommer U (2002) Consumer versus resource control of species diversity and ecosystem functioning. Nature 417:848–851PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wourms JP (1981) Viviparity: maternal—fetal relationships in fishes. Amer Zool 21:473–515Google Scholar
  49. Wurtsbaugh WA, Cech JJ Jr (1983) Growth and activity of juvenile mosquitofish: temperature and ration effects. Trans Am Fish 112:653–660CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Yan HY (1987) Size at maturity in male Gambusia affinis. J Fish Biol 30:731–741CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA

Personalised recommendations