Long-term fish monitoring underlines a rising tide of temperature tolerant, rheophilic, benthivore and generalist exotics, irrespective of hydrological conditions
The invasion of exotic species is one of the main threats to worldwide biodiversity and can be aided by changes in environmental conditions. We hypothesized that a temporal trend of decreasing discharge and increasing temperature might have favored the invasion of warm-adapted, lentic exotic fish species in the lower Po River, northern Italy. We used presence/absence data over a long-term period (over 20 years) to investigate the dynamics of exotic fish invasion along water temperature and discharge gradients. Mean annual discharge and temperature did not show a clear trend and did not affect exotic fish species invasion, which progressed with time irrespective of these factors. The total number of species fluctuated without a clear trend, which underlined a progressive substitution of native species with exotic ones. Perhaps surprisingly, the community composition changed over time towards more temperature tolerant but also rheophilic, benthivore and generalist fish species. These results highlight how species interactions could be one of the main factors driving the invasion. Furthermore, our data underlines a continuously rising tide of exotics, which questions the success of past control strategies. Considering the current conservation resources limitations, priority should be given to the development of prevention strategies in order to avoid new species introductions.
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