Behavioral interactions under multiple stressors: temperature and salinity mediate aggression between an invasive and a native fish
Interspecific aggression is a critical determinant of the success and competitive superiority of many invasive over native species. While single abiotic stressors can alter aggression levels, the manner in which multiple stressors may alter the strength and outcome of interspecific interactions and hence the invasion potential of a species is still poorly understood, even though multiple stressors are prevalent in many ecosystems. Furthermore, multiple stressors may interact to produce synergistic or antagonistic effects on individual level behaviors, thereby modulating invasive-native species interactions in unexpected ways. Here we examined the effect of two key abiotic stressors in freshwater ecosystems-temperature and salinity-on interspecific aggression between the invasive eastern mosquito fish (Gambusia holbrooki) and juveniles of the native Australian bass (Macquaria novemaculeata). Under controlled laboratory conditions, individuals were exposed to low or high salinity levels (15 and 35‰), and low or high temperatures (21 and 28 °C), and the frequency of interspecific aggressive behaviors was scored. The effect of temperature and salinity on interspecific aggression was antagonistic for both M. novemaculeata and G. holbrooki. While elevated temperature promoted aggression, elevated salinity partially or entirely negated this effect. Moreover, regardless of temperature, M. novemaculeata was more aggressive than G. holbrooki under elevated salinity. In addition to this, the native displayed more aggression to smaller than larger heterospecifics when exposed to elevated salinity alone, while G. holbrooki showed no such preference. These results highlight the importance of considering the interplay between multiple abiotic stressors and behavioral interactions between invasive and native species, combined with the modulating effect of species-specific and size based responses to those stressors.