Multiple environmental stressors increase the realised niche breadth of a forest-dwelling fish

5 May 2014

White, Richard; McHugh, Peter; Glover, Chris; McIntosh, Angus

Understanding the determinants of species’ niche breadth is important due to the negative relationship between niche breadth and extinction probability. Species tolerant to extremely harsh abiotic conditions (e.g. low pH or hypoxia) often have relatively small realised niches due to a trade-off between abiotic and biotic stress tolerance, and are therefore particularly vulnerable to extinction. We hypothesised that tolerance to multiple extreme conditions (e.g. low pH, hypoxia and drought) in brown mudfish (Neochanna apoda), would increase their realised niche breadth because each extreme would provide additive refuge against a dominant species, the banded kokopu (Galaxias fasciatus). Fish distributions were surveyed in 65 peat-swamp-forest streams and pools in New Zealand, which varied in dissolved oxygen, acidity and hydroperiod. Mudfish distribution was extremely patchy, and almost completely allopatric with kokopu. Allopatry was driven mainly by pool hydroperiod; mudfish occupied 88 percent of temporary pools due to their tolerance of habitat drying, whereas kokopu were absent from temporary pools. Within permanent pools, mudfish occurrence was negatively related to pool oxygen and pH, whereas kokopu occurrence was positively related to these conditions. Pool conditions were independently distributed in the landscape, suggesting that each abiotic stressor offered additive refuge for mudfish from kokopu predation/competition. Consequently, the mudfish realised niche breadth depended on the number of abiotic factors driving their allopatry with kokopu. Given the widespread negative relationships between niche breadth and species extinction probabilities, our results indicate that tolerance to multiple stressors may play an important role in insuring species persistence against the multiple drivers of global environmental change.

Doi
10.1111/ecog.00526