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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Nov 25;100(24):14074-9. Epub 2003 Nov 12.

Divergent selection during speciation of Lake Malawi cichlid fishes inferred from parallel radiations in nuptial coloration.

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  • 1Biodiversity and Ecology Division, University of Southampton, Bassett Crescent East, Southampton SO16 7PX, United Kingdom.


Repeated evolution of the same phenotypic difference during independent episodes of speciation is strong evidence for selection during speciation. More than 1,000 species of cichlids, >10% of the world's freshwater fish species, have arisen within the past million years in Lakes Malawi and Victoria in eastern Africa. Many pairs of closely related sympatric species differ in their nuptial coloration in very similar ways. Nuptial coloration is important in their mate choice, and speciation by sexual selection on genetically or ecologically constrained variation in nuptial coloration had been proposed, which would repeatedly produce similar nuptial types in different populations, a prediction that was difficult to test in the absence of population-level phylogenies. We measured genetic similarity between individuals within and between populations, species, and lake regions by typing 59 individuals at >2,000 polymorphic genetic loci. From these data, we reconstructed, to our knowledge, the first larger species level phylogeny for the most diverse group of Lake Malawi cichlids. We used the genetic and phylogenetic data to test the divergent selection scenario against colonization, character displacement, and hybridization scenarios that could also explain diverse communities. Diversity has arisen by replicated radiations into the same color types, resulting in phenotypically very different, yet closely related, species within and phenotypically highly similar yet unrelated sets of species between regions, which is consistent with divergent selection during speciation and is inconsistent with colonization and character displacement models.

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