Tilapia as exotic species

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Main article: Tilapia

Throughout much of the tropics, tilapiine cichlids native to Africa and the Levant have been widely introduced into a variety of aquatic systems. In the U.S. States of Florida and Texas, tilapia were originally introduced out of an intention to curtail invasive plants.[1] In an effort to meet the growing demand for tilapia, humans have farmed these fish in countries around the world. Capable of establishing themselves into new ponds and waterways, many tilapia have escaped aquaculture facilities across much of Asia, Africa and South America.[2][3] In other cases, tilapia have been established into new aquatic habitats via aquarists or ornamental fish farmers.[4][5]

Because tilapia are generally large, fast growing, breed rapidly, and can tolerate a wide variety of water conditions (even marine environments), tilapia establish themselves into new habitats rather quickly. In doing so, tilapia often out compete native fish, create turbidity in rivers by digging, and can reduce available sun light for aquatic plants. Tilapia greatly impact and alter local habitat. Many environmental problems wrought by tilapia have been observed in different locations, including Australia, the Philippines, and the United States.[6][7][8]


During World War II Oreochromis mossambicus was introduced to Singapore by the Japanese, who had brought the fish from the island of Java. Hence the fishes' local names, Japanese fish and Java fish. Tilapia were once abundant in the fresh and brackish waters off the north coast of Singapore. Since the late 1980s however, populations of feral tilapia have declined. Recently introduced cichlid hybrids (red tilapia O. mossambicus x O. niloticus, possibly also O. honorum and O. aureus) have crossbred with populations of Oreochromis mossambicus, possibly contributing to the decline. Inter-species hybrids tend to produce fewer fry per brood than spawning by fishes of the same species. In addition, hybrids classified as O. niloticus may have inherited a diminished tolerance for saline conditions, thus restricting the environments in which tilapia can be found.

Tilapia by Country[edit]


During the 1970s, tilapia were imported to Australia and introduced into the warm tributaries of North Queensland. These early introductions of tilapia were intended to act as a form of biological control, combatting the growth of weeds and proliferation of mosquitos.[9] Later genetic studies indicated that at least two separate introductions to the native creeks and rivers occurred.[10] As early as 1979, there were established populations of Tilapia mariae and Cichlasoma nigrofasciatum in the cooler climate of Victoria; in a pond warmed by a power station.[11] In 1981 they were also noted to be present in the waters of Carnarvon, Western Australia.[12]

Ten years later, feral populations of tilapia were documented throughout Queensland and Western Australia as the geographical range of tilapia continued to increase.[10] By 1991, waters surrounding the Queensland cities of Brisbane, Townsville, and the Gascoyne River in Western Australia were filled with Oreochromis mossambicus. It was also found that tilapia were extending their range northward, into warmer waters.

Immature Mozambique tilapia, Oreochromis mossambicus, caught in the Endeavour River, near Cooktown, Australia. Dec. 2007.
Noxious Pest

The ecological impacts of tilapia on Australian rivers, creeks and ponds have been significant. Dramatic decreases in native fish populations were in part, due to the aggressive predation and competition for food by tilapia.[13] Impacts on riparian habitat were further fostered by tilapia digging (increasing river turbidity) and the establishment of nests. Native fishes, invertebrates, and other organisms have experienced a reduction in stream access and cover as a result of tilapia activities.

Tilapia are listed as a noxious pest in Queensland, Australia,[14] and are spreading rapidly into previously untouched and relatively pristine river systems such as the Endeavour River near Cooktown and the Eureka Creek.[1][15][16]

As tilapia can thrive in fresh, brackish and salt water habitats,[17] it is thought that tilapia can quickly infest neighbouring rivers. Tilapia, like eels or bull sharks, can enter new river systems via the sea.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador[edit]

Tilapia have been introduced into Laguna Junco, a volcanic caldera in the Galapagos Islands.[18] Within the caldera, there is an absence of native freshwater fish. Several invertebrates endemic to the Galapagos, specifically within the Laguna Junco caldera, spend all or part of their lifecycle in freshwater. The Galapagos dragonfly, is a prime example of an endemic Galapagos invertebrate. Tilapia therefore pose a significant threat to the Galapagos dragon fly and other endemic animals. As of 2007, The Ecuadorian Park Service is developing a plan to rid the Galapagos Islands of tilapia. International assistance in the form of US Aid for International Development and the US Geological Survey will supplement The Ecuadorian Park Service.

It is important to note that tilapia have also been introduced to South America. In addition, many parts of Latin America house tilapia in aquaculture pens. Many of these fish have escaped and now populate riparian habitats throughout much of Latin America.

United States[edit]

Salton Sea[edit]

The Salton Sea is California’s largest body of inland water. During the early twentieth century, the Colorado River overflowed into a series of irrigation canals. From 1905-1907, river water collected into the Salton Sea basin, later forming the Salton Sea.[19]

Shoreline along the Salton Sea.

For the past century, river runoff and evaporation have greatly increased the salinity concentration within the Salton Sea. Presently, the introduced Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) and only a handful of other fish species are capable of tolerating the Salton Sea’s exceptionally high concentrations of salinity. Although the Mozambique tilapia is most commonly an invasive species throughout much of the southwestern United States, in the Salton Sea, this tilapia has become a critical part of local ecology.[19]

History of Fish and Fish Introductions into the Salton Sea[edit]

Historically, the Colorado River has often flooded the Salton Sea basin. During the Pleistocene era, an ancient body of water named Lake Cahuilla was the last in a series of ancient lakes within the region. Today, ancient remnants of fish species that once lived in Lake Cahuilla can still be unearthed in the Salton Sea basin. Fossil evidence of fish species include Machete (Elops affinis), Bonytail (Gila robusta), and Stripped Mullet (Mugil Cephalus).[20]

Several decades after the formation of the Salton Sea, The California Department of Fish and Wildlife introduced several species of oceanic fishes into the Salton Sea. These species originated from the Gulf of California and included some of the following, orangemouth corvina (Cynoscion xanthulus), bairdiella (Bairdiella icistia), sargo (Anisotremus davidsoni), and threadfin shad (Dorosoma petenense).[21] The tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) was most likely introduced to the Salton Sea sometime during the 1960s.[20] The exact time and location of tilapia introduction remains largely unknown, although speculation points to farmed tilapia escaping into the Salton Sea.[20]

Tilapia Diet[edit]

Adult members of the tilapia Oreochromis mossambicus prey upon a variety of organisms within the Salton Sea. The polychaete worm Neanthes succinea is an important part of tilapia diet.[22] In addition to polychaete worms, adult tilapia regularly feed upon phytoplankton, copepods, smaller fishes and barnacles.[23] Limited to smaller prey items, juvenile tilapia are dependent upon phytoplankton and small Salton Sea invertebrates. Oreochromis mossambicus is an adaptable species of tilapia. During periods of food scarcity, Oreochromis mossambicus feeds on fish waste and other detritus.[24]

Avian Fauna and Salton Sea Tilapia[edit]

Oreochromis mossambicus plays an important role in the ecology of the Salton Sea. This tilapia, along with several other fish species, provides food for hundreds of birds. Many of these birds are migratory, and utilize the Salton Sea as an important destination for resting and feeding along the Pacific flyway.[25]

Tilapia bones along the Salton Sea shoreline.

Environmental Stresses[edit]

High salinity concentrations, algal blooms, agricultural runoff, hypoxia, wind events and temperature variability all contribute to fish die-offs in the Salton Sea. The high concentrations of tilapia in the Salton Sea (relative to other fish species) signify that tilapia often constitute the largest percentage of dead fishes during periods of excessive environmental stress. During fish kills, tilapia often wash ashore in mass.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Florida's Exotic Freshwater Fishes". State of Florida. 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  2. ^ Azevedo-Santos, V. M. ; Rigolin-Sá, O. ; Pelicice, F. M. 2011. Growing, losing or introducing? Cage aquaculture as a vector for the introduction of non-native fish in Furnas Reservoir, Minas Gerais, Brazil.. Neotropical Ichthyology , 9: 915-919
  3. ^ Nand Lal, Satya; Roberto Foscarini. "Introduction of tilapia species and constraints to tilapia farming in Fiji". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  4. ^ University of Southern Mississippi/College of Marine Sciences/Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (2005-08-03). "Fact Sheet for Tilapia zilli (Gervais, 1848)". Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  5. ^ Fuller, Pam L.; Leo G. Nico (2002-10-11). "Nonindigenous Fishes of Florida - With a Focus on South Florida". U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Center for Coastal Geology. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  6. ^ Sena De Silva; et al. (2004). "Tilapias as Alien Aquatics in Asia and the Pacific: A Review, FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 453". Retrieved 2007-04-02. 
  7. ^ Nico, Leo (2006-04-22). "Tilapia mariae". USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  8. ^ "Tilapia - NSW DPI - Fisheries". NSW Department of Primary Industries: Fisheries. Archived from the original on 2006-09-18. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  9. ^ McCutcheon, Peter (2005-01-01). "Tilapia spreads in nth Qld". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  10. ^ a b Mather, P.B.; A.H. Arthington. "An assessment of genetic differentiation among feral Australian tilapia populations". Marine and Freshwater Research (Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research) 42: 721. doi:10.1071/MF9910721. Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  11. ^ Cadwallader, P.L.; G.N. Backhouse; R. Fallu (1980-01-01). "Occurrence of exotic tropical fish in the cooling pondage of a power station in temperate south-eastern Australia". Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 31: 541. doi:10.1071/MF9800541. Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  12. ^ "Aquatic Invaders - Introduced species are a threat to our aquatic biodiversity: Tilapia or Mozambique Mouthbrooder". Department of Fisheries, Government of Western Australia. 2006-06-01. Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  13. ^ McDonald, Ian (2005-07-21). "Press Release - Tilapia under attack". Ian McDonald Federal Minister for Fisheries and Conservation at the time. Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  14. ^ "Exotic pest fish - commonly asked questions and answers."
  15. ^ "Tilapia shock: Noxious fish placed in the Endeavour River deliberately." Sarah Martin. Cooktown Local News. January 9, 2008, p. 1.
  16. ^ "Double dose of poison fails to wipe out tilapia." Sarah Martin. Cooktown Local News. February 6, 2008, pp. 1, 3.
  17. ^ "Aquaponics"
  18. ^ Galapagos Conservation Trust link
  19. ^ a b Riedel R, Helvenston L, Costa-Pierce BA. 2002. Fish biology and fisheries ecology of the Salton Sea. Developments in Hydrobiology 161: 229 – 224
  20. ^ a b c Riedel R, Helvenston L, Costa-Pierce BA. 2002. Fish biology and fisheries ecology of the Salton Sea. Journal of Developments in Hydrobiology 161:229-244
  21. ^ Caskey LL, Riedel RR, Costa-Pierce B, Butler J, Hurlbert SH. 2007. Population dynamics, distribution, and growth rate of tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) in the Salton Sea, California, with notes on bairdiella (Bairdiella icistia) and orangemouth corvina (Cynoscion xanthulus). Journal of Hydrobiologia 576:185–203
  22. ^ Hurlbert SH, Reifel KM, Swan BK, Watts JM. 2007. Role of the polychaete Neanthes succinea in phosphorus regeneration from sediments in the Salton Sea, California. Journal of Hydrobiologia 576:111–125
  23. ^ Riedel, Ralf; Costa-Pierce, Barry A (May 2005). "Feeding Ecology of Salton Sea Tilapia (Oreochromis spp.)". Bulletin, Southern California Academy of Sciences 104 (1): 26–36. doi:10.3160/0038-3872(2005)104[26:feosst]2.0.co;2. 
  24. ^ Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 2014. Species fact sheets-Oreochromis mossambicus. Fisheries and Aquaculture Department
  25. ^ Riedel R, Caskey LM, Hurlbert SH. 2007. Length-weight relations and growth rates of dominant fishes of the Salton Sea: implications for predation by fish-eating birds. Journal of Lake and Reservoir Management 23:528-535
  26. ^ Brauner CJ, Suvajdzic K, Nilsson G, Randall D. 2007. Fish physiology, toxicology, and water quality. United States Environmental Protection Agency EPA/600/R-07/010

External links[edit]

  • Tilapia project at Australian Centre for Tropical Freshwater Research, James Cook University [2]
  • Information on two tilapia pest species from the Australian Centre for Tropical Freshwater Research as PDF downloads: [3]
  • Canonico GC, Arthington A, McCrary JK, and Thieme M (2005): The effects of introduced tilapias on native biodiversity. Aquatic Conservation 15:463-483 [4]
  • The Flip Side of Tilapia, the Perfect Factory Farm Fish New York Times [5]
  • McCrary et al., Tilapia (Teleostei: Cichlidae) status in Nicaraguan naturalwaters [6]