Historical Changes in Large River Fish Assemblages of the Americas

Changes in the Fish Fauna of the Kissimmee River Basin, Peninsular Florida: Nonnative Additions

Leo G. Nico

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569728.ch26

Abstract.—Recent decades have seen substantial changes in fish assemblages in rivers of peninsular Florida. The most striking change has involved the addition of nonnative fishes, including taxa from Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. I review recent and historical records of fishes occurring in the Kissimmee River basin (7,800 km2), a low-gradient drainage with 47 extant native fishes (one possibly the result of an early transplant), at least 7 foreign fishes (most of which are widely established), and a stocked hybrid. Kissimmee assemblages include fewer marine fishes than the nearby Peace and Caloosahatchee rivers, and fewer introduced foreign fishes than south Florida canals. Fish assemblages of the Kissimmee and other subtropical Florida rivers are dynamic, due to new introductions, range expansions of nonnative fishes already present, and periodic declines in nonnative fish populations during occasional harsh winters. The addition, dispersal, and abundance of nonnative fishes in the basin is linked to many factors, including habitat disturbance, a subtropical climate, and the fact that the basin is centrally located in a region where drainage boundaries are blurred and introductions of foreign fishes commonplace. The first appearance of foreign fishes in the basin coincided with the complete channelization of the Kissimmee River in the 1970s. Although not a causal factor, artificial waterways connecting the upper lakes and channelization of the Kissimmee River have facilitated dispersal. With one possible exception, there have been no basinwide losses of native fishes. When assessing change in peninsular Florida waters, extinction or extirpation of fishes appears to be a poor measure of impact. No endemic species are known from peninsular Florida (although some endemic subspecies have been noted). Most native freshwater fishes are themselves descended from recent invaders that reached the peninsula from the main continent. These invasions likely were associated with major fluctuations in sea level since the original mid-Oligocene emergence of the Florida Platform. As opportunistic invaders, most native freshwater fishes in peninsular Florida are resilient, widespread, and common. At this early stage, it is not possible to predict the long-term consequences caused by the introduction of foreign fishes. We know a few details about the unusual trophic roles and other aspects of the life histories of certain nonnatives. Still, the ecological outcome may take decades to unfold.