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One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish: biotic interactions of native and invasive mosquitofish with their environment.

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  • Full or part time
    Dr R Riesch
    Prof M Brown
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Invasive alien species are a key global threat to healthy ecosystems, yet we still have only a poor understanding of the different levels on which they interact with their environment. This makes devising proper management plans for invasive species, and effective conservation plans for the native communities, a major challenge. The Eastern mosquitofish (Poeciliidae: Gambusia holbrooki) is one of the top 100 most invasive species in the world and they have driven dramatic decreases in native biodiversity across their invasive range. Since their introduction from the USA to Europe in 1921 as a mosquito-control agent in malaria prevention, they have rapidly spread throughout most of southern and south-central Europe. Despite decades of research, we still lack a thorough understanding of how exactly they impact the ecosystems they colonize, how this impact might differ between their native and invasive ranges, but also how the different ecosystems in turn affect mosquitofish fitness, and thus, evolution (i.e., eco-evolutionary feedbacks). This project aims to (a) identify mosquitofish feeding ecology across the native range in the Eastern USA and invasive range here in Europe, (b) establish and quantify the effects G. holbrooki have on native invertebrate and vertebrate species (with a particular focus on potential competitors, such as Cyprinodon pupfish and other poeciliid fishes in the native range, and killifish of the genera Aphanius and Valencia in the invasive range in Europe), and (c) quantify host-parasite and predator-prey interactions between mosquitofish and their parasites and predators, respectively, to test whether invasive mosquitofish are so successful because they are benefiting from reduced selection pressures from parasites and predators in their invasive range (the enemy release hypothesis). Essential skills and methodological approaches will involve field work in aquatic habitats, insect and fish identification, designing and conducting functional response assays on mosquitofish and their competitors, construction of food webs, dissections of fish for identification and quantification of parasites, and a driving license (due to extensive driving between sample sites across Europe and the USA). The project will involve extensive fieldwork in Europe (mostly Italy, France and Spain) and the USA (along the East Coast from Florida into New Jersey), suiting someone comfortable with extensive field/research trips. This project will significantly advance our understanding of the mechanisms that make mosquitofish such successful invaders, and the ecosystem-level effects of the presence of mosquitofish in their native and invasive range. This is crucially important today, because human activities, such as species introductions and climate change, lead to widespread alteration of species’ ranges, which can have widespread environmental, economic, societal, and health consequences.

Interviews are provisionally planned for the period 25th February and 8th March 2019.
Please follow the application link below to our school web page for full instructions on eligibility and how to apply

Funding Notes

The studentship award will cover the cost of institutional tuition fees and provide an annual tax-free living stipend with at the standard RCUK rate with London weighting. The amount is currently at £16,777pa for the 18/19 Academic Year


Jourdan J, J Baier, R Riesch, S Klimpel, B Streit, R Müller & M Plath (2016) Adaptive growth reduction in response to fish kairomones allows mosquito larvae (Culex pipiens) to reduce predation risk. Aquatic Sciences 78(2): 303-314.
Ouyang X, J Gao, M Xie, B Liu, L Zhou, B Chen, J Jourdan, R Riesch & M Plath (2018) Natural and sexual selection drive multivariate phenotypic divergence along climatic gradients in an invasive fish. Scientific Reports 8: 11164.
Riesch R, RA Martin, SE Diamond, J Jourdan, M Plath & RB Langerhans (2018) Thermal regime drives a latitudinal gradient in morphology and life history in a livebearing fish. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 125(1): 126-141.
Benejam L, C Alcaraz, P Sasal, G Simon-Levert & E García-Berthou (2009) Life history and parasites of the invasive mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) along a latitudinal gradient. Biological Invasions 11: 2265-2277.

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