Ecological interaction between the introduced and native rock-dwelling cichlid fishes of Lake Malawi National Park, Malawi

Munthali, Simon Muchina (1997) Ecological interaction between the introduced and native rock-dwelling cichlid fishes of Lake Malawi National Park, Malawi. PhD thesis, Rhodes University.

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Abstract

More than twenty years ago, over twenty species of the rock-dwelling cichlid species (Mbuna) were translocated from the northern Lake Malawi, where they are endemic, to Thumbi West Island, Lake Malawi National Park, in the southern part of Lake Malawi. Among these species, Cynotilapia afra, Pseudotropheus callainos and Pseudotropheus tropheops 'red cheek' are strongly territorial, and have increased substantially in number and are widely distributed, particularly in the three to seven metre depth band of the rocky habitats at the Island of Thumbi West. It is feared that the increase in population density of translocated species (hereafter referred to as introduced species) may be at the expense of ecologically equivalent native species which could be eliminated. In this thesis the following key hypotheses have been tested: (i) that the introduced species having originated from a region of Lake Malawi which is generally poor in nutrients and introduced in an area which is richer in nutrients, would cope better than the native species during periods of nutrient scarcity which occur frequently, often seasonally in oligotrophic lakes, such as Lake Malawi; (il) that the introduced species are fitter than their ecologically equivalent native species in the acquisition of territorial space in which they breed, feed and seek shelter, and (iii) that introduced and native species coexist by utilizing different microhabitats. Results show that: 1. the introduced species, P. callainos and P. tropheops 'red cheek' may have responded positively to enhanced nutrient availability, as they were found to have better condition factors and fecundity indices at Thumbi West Island than at sites of their origin, in the northern lake Malawi. Cynotilapia afra, P. callainos and P. tropheops 'red cheek' also maximise their life-span fecundity by starting to reproduce at relatively smaller size than the native species with which they overlap in microhabitat requirements. Similarly, their breeding peaks precede the breeding peaks of the native species with which they overlap in microhabitat requirements. Consequently, due to priority residence effects, the offspring of introduced species may have a competitive edge in the use of essential resources, e.g., refuge over the offspring of the native species whose peak-recruitment occurs later in the year. 2. There is an overlap between the introduced and native species in their microhabitat requirements. Consequently, interference competition between them for territorial sites occurs. The choice of optimal territory sites is constrained by the fact that females preferentially mate with males that defend significantly smaller holes, or crevices among the rocks, probably as a means of minimizing egg predation during spawning. 3. The population of territorial males of introduced species seems to grow exponentially, depending on the availability of suitable microhabitats, and an equilibrium between them and males of the native species may be reached. -Competition for optimal territory sites seems to intensify, once the carrying capacity in a particular area has been reached, and it is at this stage that some territorial males of the introduced and native species with similar microhabitat requirements, e.g., C. afra and P. zebra, or P. tropheops 'red cheek' and Jtssibling native species, P. tropheops 'orange chest' displace each other. However, it seems unlikely that any of the native species which were compared with the introduced species would be driven to extinction because: (a) there is a considerable interspecific territory turn-over between the introduced and native species that overlap in microhabitat requirements. (b) Even in situations where some of the native species occur in microhabitats that are not of their preference, they occupy patches of suitable sites and are capable of breeding. (c) It has been suggested thatsince introduced and native species breed throughout the year and are polygamous and have intraspecifically shared paternity, they are capable of fertilizing many gravid females of their own species. Therefore, the population of native species may not be detrimentally limited by the presence of introduced species. (d) The introduced and native Mbuna species that prefer small rocks coexist in the same microhabitats, partly by feeding at different sites with different intensity and they also feed at different heights in the water column. 4. The following studies have been recommended before any management intervention, such as culling is adopted: (i). interaction between the introduced and native species ill the shallow and deep' rocky habitats; (il) space utiliZation and survivorship of juveniles of the introduced and native species; (ill) laboratory studies to coniIrnl the role of different nutrient regimes on the fecundity of Mbuna; (iv) the possibility of hybridization between the introduced and native species; (v) - monitoring of population growth and distribution of the introduced species around Thumbi west Island should continue in order to detect their long-term effects on the native species.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Malawi, Cichlids, Lake Nyasa
Subjects:Q Science > QL Zoology > Chordates. Vertebrates > Fishes
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Science > Ichthyology & Fisheries Science
Supervisors:Ribbink, A. J.
ID Code:3800
Deposited By: Mrs Carol Perold
Deposited On:24 Oct 2012 09:08
Last Modified:24 Oct 2012 09:08
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