Introducing the Guppy…
Earlier this year, I was invited to give a lecture at the monthly meeting of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club. This excellent organisation was founded in 1891, and organises weekly hikes and specialist field trips for its members, who encompass a wide range of ages and backgrounds, united by an interest in Trinidad’s abundant and unique natural history.
Alongside steel pan, calypso and rum, the guppy (Poecilia reticulata) is one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most famous exports – and, like carnival, birdlife and leatherback turtles, it is also one its most popular attractions, drawing in many international academics each year. However, despite being one of the most-studied fish in the world, surprisingly it tends to be dismissed as a lowly ‘drain fish’ in its native land, due to its great abundance and ability to survive in less-than-pristine habitats.
I was delighted to take the opportunity to speak about our research into the remarkable reproductive ability of the guppy, and how this has allowed it to colonise habitats all over the globe, as well as discussing more generally why this species has been so keenly studied. Many in the audience appeared to be genuinely unaware of how fascinating this seemingly insignificant little fish is, and how important it has been to our knowledge of evolution and ecology, and were extremely interested to hear about it. The level of interest in the topic was confirmed by the deluge of insightful and pertinent questions at the end of the lecture, which touched upon many of the important areas of current research into Trinidad’s most famous fish.
I am hopeful that with greater awareness of the importance of this species to science among the inhabitants of Trinidad and Tobago, we will both start to see more Trinidadians joining the international guppy research community, and also notice an increased public awareness of the urgent need for conservation of the guppy’s Northern Range habitat, which faces constant threat from agriculture, pollution and, most worryingly, expanding quarrying operations.