The invasion and impacts of the African sharptooth catfish (Clariidae: Clarias gariepinus) in the Malay Peninsula

Bi Wei LOW, Jia Huan LIEW, Heok Hui TAN, Amirrudin AHMAD, Yiwen ZENG, Darren C. J. YEO*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


1. The African sharptooth catfish, Clarias gariepinus, is a globally invasive species with known severe impacts, including native species declines through ecological (e.g., competition, predation) and genetic interactions (e.g., hybridisation, introgression). The species was introduced to the Malay Peninsula in the late 1980s, and has since become widely established.

2. In this study, we used structural equation models (SEMs) (habitat analyses) and stable isotope analyses (dietary analyses) to elucidate the determinants of C. gariepinus invasion success in streams of the Malay Peninsula and investigate potential impacts on native counterparts.

3. Our SEMs indicate that C. gariepinus invasions were mediated by greater anthropogenic influences as well as environmental conditions associated with open streams (large channels, higher temperatures and lower canopy cover). Additionally, on the one hand, we find that invasions by C. gariepinus have led to substantial negative impacts on the native Asian walking catfish, Clarias batrachus, with the latter being displaced, or in some areas extirpated, from its characteristic open-stream habitats. On the other hand, C. gariepinus invasions did not appear to impact the native forest specialist, Clarias leiacanthus. Stable isotope analyses showed that all three Clarias species were opportunistic, generalist feeders. There was substantial overlap in the diets of C. gariepinus and C. batrachus. However, C. leiacanthus generally assimilated comparatively greater volumes of aquatic macroinvertebrate prey, therefore reducing dietary overlap with introduced C. gariepinus.

4. Our findings indicate that propagule pressure and exaptations probably have played a major role in facilitating C. gariepinus invasions in the Malay Peninsula. Furthermore, our results suggest that habitat competition may have acted synergistically with trophic competition to drive C. gariepinus impacts on native species, although this was mitigated by differentiation in ecological preferences.

5. Our results help shed light on the general characteristics of invasive species, the mechanisms facilitating their proliferation, and the potential outcomes of biological invasions. These highlight the urgent need to manage the introduction, spread and impacts of invasive C. gariepinus in the Malay Peninsula and elsewhere in its invaded range.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1925-1937
Number of pages13
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number11
Early online date25 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Chong Kwek Yan for discussions on sampling design at the start of our study. We also are grateful to Jonathan Ho, Kenny Chua, Evan Quah, Movin Nyanasengeran, Rayson Lim, Lim Teow Yeong, Muhammad Fahmi and Muhammad Izzat‐Husna for assistance and companionship in the field. Ryan Chisholm, Olaf Weyl and Rudolf Meier provided valuable insights and comments on early drafts of the manuscript. Permits for field collections were kindly granted by the National Parks Board, Singapore (permit no. NP/RP14‐137) and the Economic Planning Unit, Prime Minister's Department, Malaysia (permit no. UPE40/200/19/3191). Collection of material was carried out in accordance with the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) guidelines at the National University of Singapore (IACUC protocol no. B14‐0947). This study was supported by an AcRF Tier 1 Grant from the Singapore Ministry of Education (National University of Singapore grant no. R‐154‐000‐633‐112), the Ah Meng Memorial Conservation Fund (National University of Singapore grant no. R‐154‐000‐617‐720), and additional funding from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, National University of Singapore.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • environmental filtering
  • interspecific competition
  • invasive species
  • niche displacement
  • propagule pressure


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