Key Morphological Features Favor the Success of Nonnative Fish Species under Reduced Turbidity Conditions in the Lower Colorado River Basin

Clinton J. Moran, David L. Ward, Alice C Gibb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


As a result of anthropomorphic alterations to the lower Colorado River basin and other southwestern rivers, water turbidity has been greatly reduced and introduced, nonnative fishes thrive in these waterways. To quantify key morphological features that may allow nonnative fishes to displace native fishes, we compared eye diameter (a proxy for visual acuity) and maximum anatomical gape (a proxy for maximum prey size) in native and nonnative fishes of the lower Colorado River basin. In general, nonnative fishes have larger eyes and larger gapes relative to native fishes. Native invertivorous and piscivorous fishes may be at a particular disadvantage when compared with nonnative species from the same trophic guild because native midwater predators have proportionally smaller eyes and mouths. In the historically turbid conditions of the Colorado River, native fish likely had a limited ability to use vision to locate prey and avoid predators. Similarly, native fishes could not identify potential food items from a distance in turbid waters so suction-based prey capture (where the predator is in close proximity to the prey) may have been favored over ram-based prey capture (where fish swim from a distance to overtake prey). Many nonnative fish species have a large eye diameter and maximum anatomical gape; these features likely facilitate their ability to visually identify and capture large, elusive prey. These results suggest that the large eyes and large gapes of nonnative fishes make them superior predators and competitors in the clear, anthropomorphically altered southwestern rivers of the USA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)948-958
Number of pages11
JournalTransactions of the American Fisheries Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science

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