Evolution of a cichlid fish in a Lake Malawi satellite lake

Martin J. Genner*, Paul Nichols, Garyr. Carvalho, Rosanna L. Robinson, Paul W. Shaw, Alan Smith, George F. Turner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (SciVal)


Allopatric divergence in peripheral habitats may lead to rapid evolution of populations with novel phenotypes. In this study we provide the first evidence that isolation in peripheral habitats may have played a critical role in generation of Lake Malawi's cichlid fish diversity. We show that Lake Chilingali, a satellite lake 11.5 km from the shore of Lake Malawi, contains a breeding population of Rhamphochromis, a predatory genus previously thought to be restricted to Lake Malawi and permanently connected water bodies. The Lake Chilingali population is the smallest known Rhamphochromis, has a unique male nuptial colour pattern and has significant differentiation in mitochondrial DNA from Lake Malawi species. In laboratory mate choice trials with a candidate sister population from Lake Malawi, females showed a strong tendency to mate assortatively indicating that they are incipient biological species. These data support the hypothesis that isolation and reconnection of peripheral habitats due to lake level changes have contributed to the generation of cichlid diversity within African lakes. Such cycles of habitat isolation and reconnection may also have been important in evolutionary diversification of numerous other abundant and wide-ranging aquatic organisms, such as marine fishes and invertebrates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2249-2257
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1623
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2007


  • growth rates
  • peripatric speciation
  • adaptation
  • mitochondrial DNA
  • sexual selection
  • morphometrics


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