Damming of the Colorado River over the last century, alongside introduction of game fish species, has led to an extensive decline in numbers of native fish whilst introduced species have flourished. Scientists have found that physical changes which occur to a river when it is dammed have had an adverse effect only on native fish, due to differences in their life histories. Armed with this knowledge, they have made proposals to management agencies, which, if implemented, could reverse the loss of native species not only in the Colorado but on a country or even world-wide scale. Dr Alice Gibb from Northern Arizona University will be presenting her research on Thursday 10th July at the Society for Experimental Biology's Annual Meeting in Marseille [Session A4].
Dr Gibb and her colleagues believe that differences in the early life of native and introduced species can account for the recent changes in population dynamics. They measured 'escape responses' of both native and introduced species to predators under laboratory conditions. "Our studies have shown that the larvae of native fish, which are usually less developed when they hatch, have a poorer escape response, due to their lack of adult swimming appendages. In contrast, many introduced species can prey upon the native species, and produce larvae that are more morphologically mature at hatching and thus may themselves be better equipped to escape predation," she explains.
Changes that damming has imposed on the Colorado River environment have amplified the disadvantage that native species face, according to Dr Gibb. "Historically, the less-developed native larvae had a natural refuge from predators due to sediment suspended in the water, and water turbulence increased the ability of larvae to encounter the plankton that they feed on. Fish also rapidly outgrew their period of high-vulnerability to predation due to higher water temperatures," she declares. "Damming the Colorado Riv
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Society for Experimental Biology