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Evolution. 2013 Jul;67(7):2114-23. doi: 10.1111/evo.12090. Epub 2013 Apr 4.

Strong assortative mating by diet, color, size, and morphology but limited progress toward sympatric speciation in a classic example: Cameroon crater lake cichlids.

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  • 1Department of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis, CA, USA.


Models predict that sympatric speciation depends on restrictive parameter ranges, such as sufficiently strong disruptive selection and assortative mating, but compelling examples in nature have rarely been used to test these predictions. I measured the strength of assortative mating within a species complex of Tilapia in Lake Ejagham, Cameroon, a celebrated example of incipient sympatric adaptive radiation. This species complex is in the earliest stages of speciation: morphological and ecological divergence are incomplete, species differ primarily in breeding coloration, and introgression is common. I captured 27 mated pairs in situ and measured the diet, color, size, and morphology of each individual. I found strong assortative mating by color, size, head depth, and dietary source of benthic or pelagic prey along two independent dimensions of assortment. Thus, Ejagham Tilapia showed strong assortative mating most conducive to sympatric speciation. Nonetheless, in contrast to a morphologically bimodal Sarotherodon cichlid species pair in the lake, Ejagham Tilapia show more limited progress toward speciation, likely due to insufficient strength of disruptive selection on morphology estimated in a previous study (γ = 0.16). This supports the predicted dependence of sympatric speciation on strong assortment and strong disruptive selection by examining a potentially stalled example in nature.

© 2013 The Author(s). Evolution © 2013 The Society for the Study of Evolution.


Adaptive radiation; ecological speciation; female preference; magic trait; mate choice; sexual selection

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