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BMC Evol Biol. 2006 Jun 19;6:49.

Mitochondrial phylogeny and phylogeography of East African squeaker catfishes (Siluriformes: Synodontis).

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Department of Zoology, Karl-Franzens-University Graz, Universitätsplatz 2, 8010 Graz, Austria.



Squeaker catfishes (Pisces, Mochokidae, Synodontis) are widely distributed throughout Africa and inhabit a biogeographic range similar to that of the exceptionally diverse cichlid fishes, including the three East African Great Lakes and their surrounding rivers. Since squeaker catfishes also prefer the same types of habitats as many of the cichlid species, we hypothesized that the East African Synodontis species provide an excellent model group for comparative evolutionary and phylogeographic analyses.


Our analyses reveal the existence of six major lineages of Synodontis in East Africa that diversified about 20 MYA from a Central and/or West African ancestor. The six lineages show a clear geographic patterning. Two lineages are endemic to Lake Tanganyika (plus one non-endemic representative), and these are the only two Synodontis lineages that diversified further into a small array of species. One of these species is the cuckoo catfish (S. multipunctatus), a unique brood parasite of mouthbrooding haplochromine cichlids, which seems to have evolved in parallel with the radiation of its cichlid host lineage, the Tropheini. We also detect an accelerated rate of molecular evolution in S. multipunctatus, which might be the consequence of co-evolutionary dynamics.


We conclude that the ancestral lineage of today's East African squeaker catfish fauna has colonized the area before the Great Lakes have formed. This ancestor diversified rapidly into at least six lineages that inhabit lakes and rivers in East Africa. Lake Tanganyika is the only lake harboring a small species flock of squeaker catfishes.

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