The mbuna cichlids of Lake Malawi: a model for rapid speciation and adaptive radiation

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2005
Authors:G. F. Turner, Genner M. J.
Journal:Fish and Fisheries
Date Published:Mar
Accession Number:6225984
Keywords:adaptive radiation, Animal morphology, Article Geographic Terms: Africa, Nyasa L., Article Subject Terms: Animal metabolism, Article Taxonomic Terms: Aulonocara, behavior, behaviour, Biological speciation, Brood care, cichlidae, Color, Colour, D 04668 Fish, Feeding Behavior, Feeding behaviour, Freshwater fish, Home range, Homing behavior, Homing behaviour, Lake Malawi, Lethrinops, mbuna, Nature conservation, Parental, Parental behavior, Phylogenetics, phylogeny, Q1 01341 General, Rare species, Reproductive, Reproductive behaviour, Rocky shores, Sedimentation, SELECTION, Sexual, Territoriality

Mbuna, the dominant fishes on the rocky shores of Lake Malawi, have become a major 'model system' for the study of rapid speciation and adaptive radiation. At least 295 putative species are known, of which more than 200 remain undescribed. There is no good evidence for monophyly in the mbuna, rather mitochondrial DNA phylogenies indicate that they are polyphlyetic with respect to benthic feeding cichlids of the genera Aulonocara, Alticorpus and some species of Lethrinops. Male mbuna hold territories for 18 months or more and breed year-round. All species are maternal mouthbrooders, but females do not guard free-swimming young. Mbuna are polygamous (both sexes). There is sexual dimorphism in size, colour and fin length, and many species show within-population colour polymorphism. Mbuna genera are largely differentiated on the basis of head, jaw and tooth morphology, but congeneric species are generally distinguished by male colour. Many morphologically specialized forms have broad diets and often feed on common easily obtainable resources. While it is likely that dietary and habitat niche partitioning contributes to species coexistence, this has never clearly been demonstrated under experimental conditions. Populations on spatially separated habitat patches are often genetically differentiated, probably because most species are specialized for life on rocky shores, and lack a dispersal phase in their life histories. Males seem to disperse more than females, but are able to home several kilometres back to their territories. Some closely related ecologically equivalent allopatric populations are differentiated in male colour. Those tested have been shown to mate at least partially assortatively. Sexual selection acting on male colour seems the most plausible mechanism for initial species divergence. The same colour forms seem to have arisen several times, suggesting frequent parallel evolution. The main conservation threat to mbuna at present seems to be translocation of species within the lake as a result of the aquarium trade. However, deleterious effects on indigenous populations are not documented. In the long run, sedimentation, pollution, introduction of alien species and the development of targeted food fisheries could be more serious threats.

Alternate Journal:Fish Fish.

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