Propagule pressure drives establishment of introduced freshwater fish: quantitative evidence from an irrigation network
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Propagule pressure is recognized as a fundamental driver of freshwater fish invasions, though few studies have quantified its role. Natural experiments can be used to quantify the role of this factor relative to others in driving establishment success. An irrigation network in South Africa takes water from an inter-basin water transfer (IBWT) scheme to supply multiple small irrigation ponds. We compared fish community composition upstream, within, and downstream of the irrigation network, to show that this system is a unidirectional dispersal network with a single immigration source. We then assessed the effect of propagule pressure and biological adaptation on the colonization success of nine fish species across 30 recipient ponds of varying age. Establishing species received significantly more propagules at the source than did incidental species, while rates of establishment across the ponds displayed a saturation response to propagule pressure. This shows that propagule pressure is a significant driver of establishment overall. Those species that did not establish were either extremely rare at the immigration source or lacked the reproductive adaptations to breed in the ponds. The ability of all nine species to arrive at some of the ponds illustrates how long term continuous propagule pressure from IBWT infrastructure enables range expansion of fishes. The quantitative link between propagule pressure and success and rate of population establishment confirms the driving role of this factor in fish invasion ecology.