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J Exp Zool B Mol Dev Evol. 2012 Jun;318(4):268-78. doi: 10.1002/jez.b.22443.

Sexually dimorphic levels of color trait integration and the resolution of sexual conflict in Lake Malawi cichlids.

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Department of Biology, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, USA.


East African cichlids are renowned for their propensity to radiate, and variation in color patterns accounts for much of endemic cichlid diversity. Sexual dimorphism in color among cichlid species likely represents the outcome of different selective regimes acting on each sex, and is a classic example of sexual conflict. It is generally assumed that this conflict has been mitigated through the evolution of sex-linked color polymorphisms. Here, we propose that the evolution of sex-specific differences in levels of color trait integration may represent an additional mechanism through which sexual conflict has been resolved in this group. Specifically, we predict: (1) that general patterns of integration are influenced by early developmental events and thus conserved across sexes and (2) that male color is less integrated than females, and thus more evolvable in terms of producing an elaborate palette (i.e., in response to sexual selection), whereas female color is more integrated, facilitating wholesale shifts in color for background matching (i.e., in response to natural selection for crypsis). We tested these hypotheses using an F(2) design to compare the segregation of male and female color patterns. Both exploratory methods and hypothesis-driven analyses of integration demonstrate that the covariance structure of color traits in males and females is distinct, and that males are significantly less integrated than females. We suggest that the ability of species to promote different levels, and to a lesser extent patterns, of phenotypic integration between males and females may have contributed to the evolutionary success of this group.

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