Alburnus alburnus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Common Name: Bleak

Synonyms and Other Names:

alver, Alburnus charusini Herzenstein in Zogrtaff and Kavraiskii, 1889, Alburnus striatus Petrov, 1926




David Perez (commons.wikimedia.org)Copyright Info

Identification: Alburnus alburnus is a small fish with a slim and streamlined body. It is pale in color with silver sides and easily detached scales. This species has a protruding lower jaw and its mouth points upward. Fins are colorless to slightly gray or orange. Its caudal fin has 19 rays (Spillman 1961). The anal fin has 17-20½ branched rays and its origin is below the branched dorsal rays 4-5 (Kottelat and Freyhof 2007). It possesses 16-22 gill rakers. The ventral keel is exposed from the anus to pelvic base. The lateral stripe is absent or faint.


Size: Adults 40 to 199 cm total length (Billard 1997; Latorre et al. 2018).


Native Range: East slope of Pyrenees towards Ural Mountains and Emba (Pérez-Bote et al. 2004; Kottelat 1997). North of the Pyrenees, Caucasus, and Alps.

Nonindigenous Occurrences: It is currently present in Cyprus through accidental introduction (Vinyoles et al. 2007). Its range extends throughout most of the Iberian Peninsula, including Italy, Portugal, Spain (Kottelat 1997). Between 2002 and 2003, Bleak in the Catalonian basins was limited within the Llobregat, Ebre, Fluviá, and Muga basins; however, by 2008, it had increased its range to include the Ter and Foix basins (Maceda-Veiga et al. 2010). Bleak is also in Morocco (Clavero et al. 2015) and throughout the Ob River basin, Russia (Interesova 2016).


This species is not currently in the Great Lakes region but may be elsewhere in the US. See the point map for details.

Ecology: Alburnus alburnus inhabits slow flowing streams and temperate lakes in Europe and Asia (Kottelat 1997). Larvae are common in the littoral zones of rivers and lakes and prefer vegetated shorelines (Mouton et al. 2009). In rivers, adults prefer habitat with woody debris and vegetation (Mufioz 2017). In lakes, they inhabit pelagic surface waters between 0 to 5 meters in depth (Harby et al. 2007; Stojkovic et al. 2014; Ju°za et al. 2015). It is a stenohaline fish that lives in brackish water with salinities of 8-10‰ (Lindén et al. 1979). Cyprinidae fish such as Alburnus alburnus are strictly intolerant of sea water (Myers 1949). It typically inhabits waters with temperatures ranging from 10° to 20°C (Baensch and Riehl 1991), but can overwinter at temperatures <8°C with only a slight increase in breathing rate and decrease in metabolism (Ponepal and Paunescu 2019). It can acclimate to temperatures up to 37.7 to 40.6°C if temperatures are raised gradually (Horoszewics 1973).

Alburnus alburnus cannot tolerate low-oxygen waters (Willemsen 1980), but is highly tolerant to pollution (Lindén et al. 1979) due to high ecological plasticity (Prychepa et al. 2019). Bleak suffered no negative impacts from estrogen released from a water treatment plant for over 17 years (Johnson et al. 2017). Pollutants such as brominated flame retardants were found to bioaccumulate in Alburnus alburnus that established as a nonnative fish in Spain (Eljarrat et al. 2005). Alburnus alburnus co-occurs with other nonindigenous species in the Iberian Peninsula (Maceda-Veiga et al. 2010).

Alburnus alburnus feeds during the day on planktonic cyanobacteria (Vejrík et al. 2016), zooplankton and insects in the epilimnion (Keckeis and Schiemer 1990; Vašek and Kubecka 2004; Maceda-Veiga et al. 2010). In reservoirs Bleak prey mainly on pelagic invertebrates, primarily Crustacea, while in rivers they consume more plants, benthic invertebrates, and detritus (Almeida et al. 2017).  It also feeds on terrestrial insects that fall into lakes and subsequently excretes terrestrial derived nutrients, thereby subsidizing lake nutrient pools (Mehner et al. 2005). Bleak also consume drifting asp (Leuciscus aspius) eggs before they attach to substrate, leading to an average egg mortality of 21.2% ± 2.2% in the main tributary of the Želivka Reservoir (Šmejkal et al. 2017; Šmejkal et al. 2018). This species may affect water quality by feeding on cladocerans and other small invertebrates that directly affect water quality (Macedia-Veiga et al. 2010). The prey of this species is geographically widespread, allowing it to establish successfully outside its native range (Vinyoles et al. 2007). In comparison to another common fish (Rutilus rutilus), Alburnus alburnus has a relatively limited diet (Keckeis and Schiemer 1990). Bleak are consumed by piscivores such as Eurasian Perch (Perca fluviatilis), Zander (Sander lucioperca), Sheatfish (Silurus glanis) (Pavlovic et al. 2015), Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides), and Northern Pike (Esox lucius) (Maceda-Veiga et al. 2010; Waidbacher et al. 2018).

Bleak reproduces between April and August (Erdogan and Koc 2017) once water temperatures reach 14°C (Souchon and Tissot 2012). It matures at 2 to 3 years old and has a high reproductive rate - spawning two to four times a season with an absolute fecundity of around 7000 eggs per female (Kottelat and Freyhof 2007). Bleak are able to hybridize with other cyprinids (Vinyoles et al. 2007), including Squalius, Blicca, Rutilus, Leuciscus, and Abramis (Blachuta and Witkowski 1984; Crivelli and Dupont 1987; Maceda-Veiga et al. 2010; Witkowski et al. 2015). The average lifespan of Bleak is 4 years and the maximum is around 9 years (Bíró and Muskó 1995).


Means of Introduction: Alburnus alburnus has a moderate probability of introduction to the Great Lakes (Confidence level: High).

Potential pathway(s) of introduction: Transoceanic shipping (ballast water).

From its native range, Alburnus alburnus was locally introduced to the Iberian Peninsula, Spain, Portugal, and Italy (Kottelat 1997). This fish species was intentionally introduced to the Northern Iberian watershed by anglers in an attempt to increase the stock of forage for nonnative fish predators and was used as a popular live baitfish (Vinyoles et al. 2007). Alburnus alburnus is found in the Seine, Loire, and Rhine Rivers, which naturally discharge into the Atlantic Ocean (Leuven et al. 2009).

Through travel across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe, Alburnus alburnus may suffer mortality in ballast water due to its inability to survive waters with high salinity, limiting its introduction to the Great Lakes (Wheeler 1978). However, it has been shown that 35% of “No Ballast on Board” (NOBOB) vessels, which are exempt from mandatory ballast exchange, possess at least 1 tank with ≤ 5‰ salinity, thus enhancing the potential for Alburnus alburnus to survive transport overseas to be introduced into the Great Lakes (Niimi and Reid 2003).

Currently, the geographical distribution of Alburnus alburnus does not cover water bodies connected to the Great Lakes basin. Alburnus alburnus is not a popular aquarium fish and is not available for purchase online. Alburnus alburnus is not available as live baitfish for online purchase in North America. Bleak was classified as a ‘high invasiveness risk’ species in Great Britain rivers under the Aquatic Species Invasiveness Screening Kit developed by Copp et al. (2016) (Dodd et al. 2019). There are import restrictions regarding the transport of Alburnus alburnus to the United Kingdom (Clarke 2006). It is predicted that the geographical range of this species will expand due to climate change (Lehtonen 1996).


Status: Not established in North America, including the Great Lakes.

Alburnus alburnus has a high probability of establishment if introduced to the Great Lakes (Confidence level: High).

If Alburnus alburnus were introduced to the Great Lakes, it has the potential to spread rapidly (Kolar and Lodge 2002). The climate of the Great Lakes is similar to the native range of Alburnus alburnus and this species is likely capable of enduring overwintering conditions in the Great Lakes basin (Reid and Orlova 2002; Grigorovich et al. 2003; EPA 2008). It is likely that the Great Lakes contain an abundant food source for this species, but they also contain natural predators (e.g., Largemouth Bass Micropterus salmoides and Northern Pike Esox lucius) to Bleak that may slow their establishment (Maceda-Veiga et al. 2010; Waidbacher et al. 2018). This species has a high reproductive rate and its seasonal movements from reservoirs to tributaries make it an excellent disperser (Vinyoles et al. 2007; Matano et al. 2018). Bleak’s interpopulation (Maso et al. 2016; Latorre et al. 2020) and wide trophic plasticity makes it a very successful invader (Almeida et al. 2014, 2017; Latorre et al. 2018). It can adapt to different habitats quickly, particularly those with flow regulation (weirs, reservoirs, dams, etc.) which are common throughout the Great Lakes region (Amat-Trigo et al. 2019).

Following its introduction into the Ebro basin in Spain, this species rapidly established throughout the entire Iberian Peninsula, where it is currently present in all of the major Iberian water basins and a large number of Iberian rivers, suggesting that it has the ability to adapt to a warmer climate regime (Vinyoles et al. 2007). After its establishment in Britain, Alburnus alburnus consequently spread and established in Cyprus. It is believed that the high fecundity rate of this species is responsible for its establishment. Bleak’s rapid expansion throughout the Ob River basin in Russia was attributed to human mediated and natural dispersal (Reshetnikova et al. 2017).


Great Lakes Impacts: Alburnus alburnus has the potential for high environmental impact if introduced to the Great Lakes.

Alburnus alburnus is a superior competitor because of its high reproductive rate, its non-specific diet, and its ability to tolerate a broad range of temperatures. Alburnus alburnus exhibits large and sudden bursts in population size so it has outcompeted native species where established (Welcomme 1988; Perez-Bote et al. 2007; Vinyoles et al. 2007). Bleak has similar behavior and activity patterns to Pseudorasbora parva, another potential invader to the Great Lakes, due to major isotopic niche overlap indicating competition between the two species if resources become limited, however, they can co-exist in open systems and potentially double their trophic impact (Haubrock et al. 2019; Balzani et al. 2020). Invasive Bleak in the Iberian Peninsula have led to higher metabolic expense, reduced shelter use, and increased predation risk in the critically endangered Iberian saramugo Anaecypris hispanica (da SIlva et al. 2019).

Bleak is able to hybridize with other cyprinids (Blachuta and Witkowski 1984; Crivelli and Dupont 1987; Maceda-Veiga et al. 2010). In the Iberian watershed, Alburnus alburnus has threatened endemic species (e.g. Squalius and Anaecypris spp.) through hybridizing with other cyprinids and its generally high reproductive rate (Vinyoles et al. 2007; Sousa-Santos et al. 2018). Besides impacting native fish fauna, Alburnus alburnus feeds on cladoceran and other small invertebrates that play an important role in freshwater ecosystems and may directly affect the water quality (Maceda-Veiga et al. 2010). This species exhibits a high level of plasticity in population traits and is able to adapt to a wide variety of environmental conditions.

Bleak are very active fish with fast metabolism which can lead to bioaccumulation of heavy metals and other toxins (Kolarevic et al. 2016; Jovanovic et al. 2018). 58% of Bleak muscle samples taken from the Dunajec River, Poland contained more than the human consumption limit of lead (0.3 mg Pb kg-1 dry matter) (Niemiec et al. 2018).

It is a host to the widespread eastern European parasites Paracoenogonimus ovatus (Ostrowska et al. 2019) and Nicolla skrjabini (Chunchukova et al. 2019) which can infect a wide variety of fish that inhabit the Great Lakes, including both invasive (e.g. Scardinius erythrophthalmus, Gymnocephalus cernua, Salmo trutta, and Cyprinus carpio) and native species (e.g. Esox lucius) to the Great Lakes. Bleak is also a vector for the Carp Edema Virus (Matras et al. 2019).

There is little or no evidence to support that Alburnus alburnus has the potential for significant socio-economic impact if introduced to the Great Lakes.

Alburnus alburnus may affect water quality (i.e., increased turbidity and algae/chlorophyll a concentrations) by feeding on organisms that play a direct role in water quality (Maceda-Veiga et al. 2010).

The bioaccumulation of heavy metals, including lead, in Bleak may pose a threat to the health of humans who consume them (Niemiec et al. 2018).

Alburnus alburnus has the potential for high beneficial effects if introduced to the Great Lakes.

This species may be commercially valuable as forage fish and baitfish (Pérez-Bote et al. 2007), and the artificial pearl trade (Denton and Nicol 1965). A small amount of Bleak is fished recreationally in the Tsimlyansk Reservoir, Russia, amounting to 141 kg in 2019 (0.5% total catch) (Kutsenko et al. 2020). In the Western Balakan Peninsula, catch of Bleak varies amongst lotic and lentic systems. There is a total annual catch of 65 tons - a very small proportion of the estimated population of ~5000 tons (Simic et al. 2016). In some lentic systems it's less than 1% of the catch but is between 40-70% in Skadar lake, Montenegro/Albania (Mrdak 2009).

In Europe, it has been introduced into various reservoirs to benefit the populations of exotic fish predators such as the Northern Pike (Esox Lucius), Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides), Zander (Sander lucioperca), and Sheatfish (Silurus glanis) (Maceda-Veiga et al. 2010). Establishment of Alburnus alburnus may increase productivity of predator fish in the Great Lakes, especially for predatory fish that do not have specific diets.


Management: Regulations (pertaining to the Great Lakes region)
There are no known regulations for this species.*

*Ballast water regulations applicable to this species are currently in place to prevent the introduction of nonindigenous species to the Great Lakes via shipping. See Title 33: Code of Federal Regulations, Part 151, Subparts C and D (33 CFR 151 C) for the most recent federal ballast water regulations applying to the Great Lakes and Hudson River.

Note: Check federal, state/provincial, and local regulations for the most up-to-date information.

Control
Biological
There are no known biological control methods for this species.

Physical
There are no known physical control methods for this species.

Chemical
There are no known chemical control methods specific to this species. General piscicides (such as rotenone) may be used for control, but expect significant kill of non-target species.

Note: Check state/provincial and local regulations for the most up-to-date information regarding permits for control methods. Follow all label instructions.


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Other Resources:

Fishbase. Atherina boyeri. http://www.fishbase.org/summary/Atherina-boyeri.html. Accessed 05 June 2014


US Fish and Wildlife Service Ecological Risk Screening Summary for Alburnus alburnus


Author: Baker, E., G. Nunez, H. Witman, J. Li, and A. Bartos


Contributing Agencies:
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Revision Date: 6/8/2021


Citation for this information:
Baker, E., G. Nunez, H. Witman, J. Li, and A. Bartos, 2021, Alburnus alburnus (Linnaeus, 1758): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, and NOAA Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, Ann Arbor, MI, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/greatlakes/FactSheet.aspx?Species_ID=3631&Potential=Y&Type=2&HUCNumber=, Revision Date: 6/8/2021, Access Date: 6/18/2021

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.