Drivers and interrelationships among multiple dimensions of rarity for freshwater fishes

30 January 2017

Giam, Xingli; Olden, Julian

Species can be rare or common in three different dimensions: geographic range size, habitat breadth, and local abundance. Understanding drivers of rarity are not only fundamentally interesting; it is also pertinent for their conservation. We addressed this challenge by analyzing the rarity of 292 native freshwater fishes occurring in ca. 3,500 independent stream reaches that span a broad environmental gradient across continental USA. Using phylogenetic regression and path analysis, we examined the concordance among the three rarity dimensions, and identified possible mechanisms by which species life-history, habitat affinities, and biogeography drive variation in rarity. Weak double extinction jeopardies were driven by weakly positive correlations between habitat breadth and local abundance, and between habitat breadth and geographic range size. However, a triple extinction jeopardy was averted as local abundance and range size were not positively linked in our study. This is because large-river and lacustrine habitat use mediated a trade-off between local abundance and range size. Large rivers and lacustrine habitats represent important dispersal pathways and refugia that enabled fishes to acquire wide ranges; however, species using these habitats are less abundant overall because they are less adapted to small lotic channels, which comprise the majority of stream habitats in the US. Life-history traits were key in governing the relationship between abundance and range size as large-river and lacustrine habitat use were driven by body size, egg size, and parental care. Our analysis contributes novel insights into mechanisms that underlie multiple dimensions of rarity in freshwater fish and informs the prioritization of multiply rare species for conservation.