Environmental drivers of demographics, habitat use, and behavior during a post-Pleistocene radiation of Bahamas mosquitofish (Gambusia hubbsi)

Justa L. Heinen, Matthew W. Coco, Maurice S. Marcuard, Danielle N. White, M. Nils Peterson, Ryan A. Martin, R. Brian Langerhans

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39 Scopus citations


A fundamental goal of evolutionary ecology is to understand the environmental drivers of ecological divergence during the early stages of adaptive diversification. Using the model system of the post-Pleistocene radiation of Bahamas mosquitofish (Gambusia hubbsi) inhabiting blue holes, we used a comparative field study to examine variation in density, age structure, tertiary (adult) sex ratio, habitat use, as well as adult feeding and social behaviors in relation to environmental features including predation risk, interspecific competition, productivity (e.g. chlorophyll a, zooplankton density), and abiotic factors (e.g. salinity, surface diameter). The primary environmental factor associated with ecological differentiation in G. hubbsi was the presence of piscivorous fish. Gambusia hubbsi populations coexisting with predatory fish were less dense, comprised of a smaller proportion of juveniles, and were more concentrated in shallow, near-shore regions of blue holes. In addition to predation risk, the presence of a competitor fish species was associated with G. hubbsi habitat use, and productivity covaried with both age structure and habitat use. Feeding and social behaviors differed considerably between sexes, and both sexes showed behavioral differences between predator regimes by exhibiting more foraging behaviors in the absence of predators and more sexual behaviors in their presence. Males additionally exhibited more aggressive behaviors toward females in the absence of predators, but were more aggressive toward other males in the presence of predators. These results largely matched a priori predictions, and several findings are similar to trends in other related systems. Variation in predation risk appears to represent the primary driver of ecological differentiation in this system, but other previously underappreciated factors (interspecific competition, resource availability) are notable contributors as well. This study highlights the utility of simultaneously evaluating multiple environmental factors and multiple population characteristics within a natural system to pinpoint environmental drivers of ecological differentiation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)971-991
Number of pages21
JournalEvolutionary Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2013


  • Adaptive radiation
  • Blue holes
  • Competition
  • Ecological divergence
  • Habitat shift
  • Predation


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