Water pollution affects fish community structure and alters evolutionary trajectories of invasive guppies (Poecilia reticulata)

Guilherme Gomes Silva, Eric Cyubahiro, Torsten Wronski, Rudiger Riesch, Ann Apio, Martin Plath

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Anthropogenic habitat alterations have the potential to affect both, ecological dynamics of communities and populations, as well as evolutionary processes within populations. Invasive species may benefit from anthropogenic disturbance, such as water pollution, to which they sometimes seem more resistant than native ones. They also allow investigating evolutionary divergence among populations occurring along pollution gradients. We assessed fish communities at 55 sampling sites in the degraded and heavily overstocked Mutara Rangelands of north-eastern Rwanda (upper Nile drainage), which receive pollution from domestic wastewater and cattle dung. Diverse fish communities became apparent that included invasive guppies (Poecilia reticulata, Poeciliidae), and canonical correspondence analyses found significant differentiation of community structures along several environmental parameters (condensed into principal components), including pollution-effects. As predicted, generalized linear models found guppies to have a higher likelihood of occurrence at polluted sites. Local abundances of guppies, however, decreased at polluted sites. Since guppies are color-polymorphic, and color patterns have a heritable basis, they allow inferences regarding both pollution-induced suppression of male ornamenta- tion (e.g., through xenestrogens) and evolutionary population divergence. We thus quantified different ornament types (numbers and percent body surface cover). ANCOVAs uncovered several weak (based on effect strengths), but statistically significant pollution-effects and interactions with other environmental parameters. The direction of several interaction effects was similar for blue/black and red/orange ornaments, while white/iridescent ornaments responded dissimilarly. As responses differed between ornament types, they likely reflect evolutionary divergence due to site-specific alterations of selective regimes rather than developmental inhibition of male secondary sexual characters. We propose that pollution affects local fitness landscapes resulting, e.g., from predation and mate competition (as a function of local abundances), altogether driving evolutionary divergence of sexually selected traits. This study highlights how human activities not only impact ecological dynamics, but—mediated by altered Eco-Evo dynamics—might change the evolutionary trajectories of populations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number138912
JournalScience of The Total Environment
Early online date28 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2020


  • biological invasion
  • color polymorphism
  • predation
  • Poeciliidae
  • sexual selection
  • contemporary evolution

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