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Mol Ecol. 2001 Mar;10(3):793-806.

How many species of cichlid fishes are there in African lakes?

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Division of Biodiversity & Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, SO16 7PX, UK.


The endemic cichlid fishes of Lakes Malawi, Tanganyika and Victoria are textbook examples of explosive speciation and adaptive radiation, and their study promises to yield important insights into these processes. Accurate estimates of species richness of lineages in these lakes, and elsewhere, will be a necessary prerequisite for a thorough comparative analysis of the intrinsic and extrinsic factors influencing rates of diversification. This review presents recent findings on the discoveries of new species and species flocks and critically appraises the relevant evidence on species richness from recent studies of polymorphism and assortative mating, generally using behavioural and molecular methods. Within the haplochromines, the most species-rich lineage, there are few reported cases of postzygotic isolation, and these are generally among allopatric taxa that are likely to have diverged a relatively long time in the past. However, many taxa, including many which occur sympatrically and do not interbreed in nature, produce viable, fertile hybrids. Prezygotic barriers are more important, and persist in laboratory conditions in which environmental factors have been controlled, indicating the primary importance of direct mate preferences. Studies to date indicate that estimates of alpha (within-site) diversity appear to be robust. Although within-species colour polymorphisms are common, these have been taken into account in previous estimates of species richness. However, overall estimates of species richness in Lakes Malawi and Victoria are heavily dependent on the assignation of species status to allopatric populations differing in male colour. Appropriate methods for testing the specific status of allopatric cichlid taxa are reviewed and preliminary results presented.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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