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1.  Evolution of feeding specialization in Tanganyikan scale-eating cichlids: a molecular phylogenetic approach 
Cichlid fishes in Lake Tanganyika exhibit remarkable diversity in their feeding habits. Among them, seven species in the genus Perissodus are known for their unique feeding habit of scale eating with specialized feeding morphology and behaviour. Although the origin of the scale-eating habit has long been questioned, its evolutionary process is still unknown. In the present study, we conducted interspecific phylogenetic analyses for all nine known species in the tribe Perissodini (seven Perissodus and two Haplotaxodon species) using amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) analyses of the nuclear DNA. On the basis of the resultant phylogenetic frameworks, the evolution of their feeding habits was traced using data from analyses of stomach contents, habitat depths, and observations of oral jaw tooth morphology.
AFLP analyses resolved the phylogenetic relationships of the Perissodini, strongly supporting monophyly for each species. The character reconstruction of feeding ecology based on the AFLP tree suggested that scale eating evolved from general carnivorous feeding to highly specialized scale eating. Furthermore, scale eating is suggested to have evolved in deepwater habitats in the lake. Oral jaw tooth shape was also estimated to have diverged in step with specialization for scale eating.
The present evolutionary analyses of feeding ecology and morphology based on the obtained phylogenetic tree demonstrate for the first time the evolutionary process leading from generalised to highly specialized scale eating, with diversification in feeding morphology and behaviour among species.
PMCID: PMC2212659  PMID: 17945014
2.  Measuring and evaluating morphological asymmetry in fish: distinct lateral dimorphism in the jaws of scale-eating cichlids 
Ecology and Evolution  2013;3(14):4641-4647.
The left–right asymmetry of scale-eating Tanganyikan cichlids is described as a unilateral topographical shift of the quadratomandibular joints. This morphological laterality has a genetic basis and has therefore been used as a model for studying negative frequency-dependent selection and the resulting oscillation in frequencies of two genotypes, lefty and righty, in a population. This study aims were to confirm this laterality in Perissodus microlepis Boulenger and P. straeleni (Poll) and evaluate an appropriate method for measuring and testing the asymmetry. Left–right differences in the height of the mandible posterior ends (HMPE) and the angle between the neurocranium and vertebrae of P. microlepis and P. straeleni were measured on skeletal specimens. Snout-bending angle was also measured using a dorsal image of the same individuals following a previous method. To define which distribution model, fluctuating asymmetry (FA), directional asymmetry (DA), or antisymmetry (AS), best fit to the lateral asymmetry of the traits, we provided an R package, IASD. As a result, HMPE and neurocranium–vertebrae angle of both species were best fitted to AS, suggesting that P. microlepis and P. straeleni showed a distinct dimorphism in these traits, although snout-bending angle of P. microlepis was best fitted to FA. Measurement error was low for HMPE comparing the snout-bending angle in P. microlepis, indicating that measuring HMPE is a more accurate method. The scale-eating tribe Perissodini showed distinct antisymmetry in the jaw skeleton and neurocranium–vertebrae angle, and this laterality remains a valid marker for further evolutionary studies.
PMCID: PMC3867900  PMID: 24363893
Morphological laterality; Perissodus microlepis; scale-eater; Tanganyikan cichlid
3.  Handed Foraging Behavior in Scale-Eating Cichlid Fish: Its Potential Role in Shaping Morphological Asymmetry 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e44670.
Scale-eating cichlid fish, Perissodus microlepis, from Lake Tanganyika display handed (lateralized) foraging behavior, where an asymmetric ‘left’ mouth morph preferentially feeds on the scales of the right side of its victim fish and a ‘right’ morph bites the scales of the left side. This species has therefore become a textbook example of the astonishing degree of ecological specialization and negative frequency-dependent selection. We investigated the strength of handedness of foraging behavior as well as its interaction with morphological mouth laterality in P. microlepis. In wild-caught adult fish we found that mouth laterality is, as expected, a strong predictor of their preferred attack orientation. Also laboratory-reared juvenile fish exhibited a strong laterality in behavioral preference to feed on scales, even at an early age, although the initial level of mouth asymmetry appeared to be small. This suggests that pronounced mouth asymmetry is not a prerequisite for handed foraging behavior in juvenile scale-eating cichlid fish and might suggest that behavioral preference to attack a particular side of the prey plays a role in facilitating morphological asymmetry of this species.
PMCID: PMC3435272  PMID: 22970282
4.  Mouth asymmetry in the textbook example of scale-eating cichlid fish is not a discrete dimorphism after all 
Individuals of the scale-eating cichlid fish, Perissodus microlepis, from Lake Tanganyika tend to have remarkably asymmetric heads that are either left-bending or right-bending. The ‘left’ morph opens its mouth markedly towards the left and preferentially feeds on the scales from the right-hand side of its victim fish, and the ‘right’ morph bites scales from the victims’ left-hand side. This striking dimorphism made these fish a textbook example of their astonishing degree of ecological specialization and as one of the few known incidences of negative frequency-dependent selection acting on an asymmetric morphological trait, where left and right forms are equally frequent within a species. We investigated the degree and the shape of the frequency distribution of head asymmetry in P. microlepis to test whether the variation conforms to a discrete dimorphism, as generally assumed. In both adult and juvenile fish, mouth asymmetry appeared to be continuously and unimodally distributed with no clear evidence for a discrete dimorphism. Mixture analyses did not reveal evidence of a discrete or even strong dimorphism. These results raise doubts about previous claims, as reported in textbooks, that head variation in P. microlepis represents a discrete dimorphism of left- and right-bending forms. Based on extensive field sampling that excluded ambiguous (i.e. symmetric or weakly asymmetric) individual adults, we found that left and right morphs occur in equal abundance in five populations. Moreover, mate pairing for 51 wild-caught pairs was random with regard to head laterality, calling into question reports that this laterality is maintained through disassortative mating.
PMCID: PMC3497103  PMID: 23055070
behavioural laterality; Lake Tanganyika; mixture analysis; negative frequency-dependent selection; Perissodus microlepis; random mating
5.  Jaw Laterality and Related Handedness in the Hunting Behavior of a Scale-Eating Characin, Exodon paradoxus 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e29349.
Asymmetry in animal bodies and behavior has evolved several times, but our knowledge of their linkage is limited. Tanganyikan scale-eating cichlids have well-known antisymmetry in their bodies and behavior; individuals open their mouths leftward (righty) or rightward (lefty), and righties always attack the right flank of the prey, whereas lefties attack the left. This study analyzed the morphological asymmetry in a scale-eating characiform, Exodon paradoxus, and its behavioral handedness.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Each eight E. paradoxus was observed for 1-h with a prey goldfish in an aquarium to detect the behavioral handedness. Following the experiment, the lateral differences in the mandibles and head-inclination of these eight and ten additional specimens were analyzed. Both measurements on the morphology showed a bimodal distribution, and the laterality identified by these two methods was always consistent within a given individual, indicating that the characin has morphological antisymmetry. Furthermore, this laterality significantly corresponded to behavioral handedness; that is, lefties more often rasped scales from the right flank of the prey and vice versa. However, the correlation between laterality and handedness is the opposite of that in the cichlids. This is due to differences in the feeding apparatus and technique. The characin has cuspids pointing forward on the external side of the premaxilla, and it thrusts its dominant body side outward from its body axis on the flank of the prey to tear off scales. By contrast, the cichlids draw their dominant body side inward toward the axis or rotate it to scrape or wrench off scales with the teeth lined in the opened mouth.
This study demonstrated that the antisymmetry in external morphology and the corresponding behavioral handedness have evolved in two lineages of scale-eating fishes independently, and these fishes adopt different utilization of their body asymmetry to tear off scales.
PMCID: PMC3247259  PMID: 22216256
6.  Lateralized Kinematics of Predation Behavior in a Lake Tanganyika Scale-Eating Cichlid Fish 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e29272.
Behavioral lateralization has been documented in many vertebrates. The scale-eating cichlid fish Perissodus microlepis is well known for exhibiting lateral dimorphism in its mouth morphology and lateralized behavior in robbing scales from prey fish. A previous field study indicated that this mouth asymmetry closely correlates with the side on which prey is attacked, but details of this species' predation behavior have not been previously analyzed because of the rapidity of the movements. Here, we studied scale-eating behavior in cichlids in a tank through high-speed video monitoring and quantitative assessment of behavioral laterality and kinematics. The fish observed showed a clear bias toward striking on one side, which closely correlated with their asymmetric mouth morphologies. Furthermore, the maximum angular velocity and amplitude of body flexion were significantly larger during attacks on the preferred side compared to those on the nonpreferred side, permitting increased predation success. In contrast, no such lateral difference in movement elements was observed in acoustically evoked flexion during the escape response, which is similar to flexion during scale eating and suggests that they share a common motor control pathway. Thus the neuronal circuits controlling body flexion during scale eating may be functionally lateralized upstream of this common motor pathway.
PMCID: PMC3253053  PMID: 22238598
7.  An Ancient Gene Network Is Co-opted for Teeth on Old and New Jaws 
PLoS Biology  2009;7(2):e1000031.
Vertebrate dentitions originated in the posterior pharynx of jawless fishes more than half a billion years ago. As gnathostomes (jawed vertebrates) evolved, teeth developed on oral jaws and helped to establish the dominance of this lineage on land and in the sea. The advent of oral jaws was facilitated, in part, by absence of hox gene expression in the first, most anterior, pharyngeal arch. Much later in evolutionary time, teleost fishes evolved a novel toothed jaw in the pharynx, the location of the first vertebrate teeth. To examine the evolutionary modularity of dentitions, we asked whether oral and pharyngeal teeth develop using common or independent gene regulatory pathways. First, we showed that tooth number is correlated on oral and pharyngeal jaws across species of cichlid fishes from Lake Malawi (East Africa), suggestive of common regulatory mechanisms for tooth initiation. Surprisingly, we found that cichlid pharyngeal dentitions develop in a region of dense hox gene expression. Thus, regulation of tooth number is conserved, despite distinct developmental environments of oral and pharyngeal jaws; pharyngeal jaws occupy hox-positive, endodermal sites, and oral jaws develop in hox-negative regions with ectodermal cell contributions. Next, we studied the expression of a dental gene network for tooth initiation, most genes of which are similarly deployed across the two disparate jaw sites. This collection of genes includes members of the ectodysplasin pathway, eda and edar, expressed identically during the patterning of oral and pharyngeal teeth. Taken together, these data suggest that pharyngeal teeth of jawless vertebrates utilized an ancient gene network before the origin of oral jaws, oral teeth, and ectodermal appendages. The first vertebrate dentition likely appeared in a hox-positive, endodermal environment and expressed a genetic program including ectodysplasin pathway genes. This ancient regulatory circuit was co-opted and modified for teeth in oral jaws of the first jawed vertebrate, and subsequently deployed as jaws enveloped teeth on novel pharyngeal jaws. Our data highlight an amazing modularity of jaws and teeth as they coevolved during the history of vertebrates. We exploit this diversity to infer a core dental gene network, common to the first tooth and all of its descendants.
Author Summary
During evolution, teeth originated deep in the pharynx of ancient and extinct jawless fishes. Later, with the evolution of bony fish, teeth appeared in the mouth, as in most current vertebrates, although some living fishes retain teeth in the posterior pharynx. We integrate comparative morphology, paleontology, and molecular biology to infer the genetic control of the first dentition. We identify Hox genes as important components of an ancient dental gene-regulatory circuit and pinpoint subsequent modifications to this gene network that accompanied the evolution of toothed oral jaws. Furthermore, we highlight a set of genes conserved in the construction of all teeth, regardless of location and lineage. This core dental gene network is evolutionarily essential: nature appears never to have made a dentition without it.
A common gene regulatory circuit controls the development of all dentitions, from the original teeth in the throats of jawless fishes half a billion years ago, to the incisors and molars of modern vertebrates.
PMCID: PMC2637924  PMID: 19215146
8.  Bentho-Pelagic Divergence of Cichlid Feeding Architecture Was Prodigious and Consistent during Multiple Adaptive Radiations within African Rift-Lakes 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9551.
How particular changes in functional morphology can repeatedly promote ecological diversification is an active area of evolutionary investigation. The African rift-lake cichlids offer a calibrated time series of the most dramatic adaptive radiations of vertebrate trophic morphology yet described, and the replicate nature of these events provides a unique opportunity to test whether common changes in functional morphology have repeatedly facilitated their ecological success.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Specimens from 87 genera of cichlid fishes endemic to Lakes Tanganyka, Malawi and Victoria were dissected in order to examine the functional morphology of cichlid feeding. We quantified shape using geometric morphometrics and compared patterns of morphological diversity using a series of analytical tests. The primary axes of divergence were conserved among all three radiations, and the most prevalent changes involved the size of the preorbital region of the skull. Even the fishes from the youngest of these lakes (Victoria), which exhibit the lowest amount of skull shape disparity, have undergone extensive preorbital evolution relative to other craniofacial traits. Such changes have large effects on feeding biomechanics, and can promote expansion into a wide array of niches along a bentho-pelagic ecomorphological axis.
Here we show that specific changes in trophic anatomy have evolved repeatedly in the African rift lakes, and our results suggest that simple morphological alterations that have large ecological consequences are likely to constitute critical components of adaptive radiations in functional morphology. Such shifts may precede more complex shape changes as lineages diversify into unoccupied niches. The data presented here, combined with observations of other fish lineages, suggest that the preorbital region represents an evolutionary module that can respond quickly to natural selection when fishes colonize new lakes. Characterizing the changes in cichlid trophic morphology that have contributed to their extraordinary adaptive radiations has broad evolutionary implications, and such studies are necessary for directing future investigations into the proximate mechanisms that have shaped these spectacular phenomena.
PMCID: PMC2833203  PMID: 20221400
9.  Modularity of the Oral Jaws Is Linked to Repeated Changes in the Craniofacial Shape of African Cichlids 
The African cichlids of the East-African rift-lakes provide one of the most dramatic examples of adaptive radiation known. It has long been thought that functional decoupling of the oral and pharyngeal jaws in cichlids has facilitated their explosive evolution. Recent research has also shown that craniofacial evolution from radiations in lakes Victoria, Malawi, and Tanganyika has occurred along a shared primary axis of shape divergence, whereby the preorbital region of the skull changes in a manner that is, relatively independent from other head regions. We predicted that the preorbital region would comprise a variational module and used an extensive dataset from each lake that allowed us to test this prediction using a model selection approach. Our findings supported the presence of a preorbital module across all lakes, within each lake, and for Malawi, within sand and rock-dwelling clades. However, while a preorbital module was consistently present, notable differences were also observed among groups. Of particular interest, a negative association between patterns of variational modularity was observed between the sand and rock-dwelling clades, a patter consistent with character displacement. These findings provide the basis for further experimental research involving the determination of the developmental and genetic bases of these patterns of modularity.
PMCID: PMC3119590  PMID: 21716745
10.  Out of Tanganyika: Genesis, explosive speciation, key-innovations and phylogeography of the haplochromine cichlid fishes 
The adaptive radiations of cichlid fishes in East Africa are well known for their spectacular diversity and their astonishingly fast rates of speciation. About 80% of all 2,500 cichlid species in East Africa, and virtually all cichlid species from Lakes Victoria (~500 species) and Malawi (~1,000 species) are haplochromines. Here, we present the most extensive phylogenetic and phylogeographic analysis so far that includes about 100 species and is based on about 2,000 bp of the mitochondrial DNA.
Our analyses revealed that all haplochromine lineages are ultimately derived from Lake Tanganyika endemics. We find that the three most ancestral lineages of the haplochromines sensu lato are relatively species poor, albeit widely distributed in Africa, whereas a fourth newly defined lineage – the 'modern haplochromines' – contains an unparalleled diversity that makes up more than 7% of the worlds' ~25,000 teleost species. The modern haplochromines' ancestor, most likely a riverine generalist, repeatedly gave rise to similar ecomorphs now found in several of the species flocks. Also, the Tanganyikan Tropheini are derived from that riverine ancestor suggesting that they successfully re-colonized Lake Tanganyika and speciated in parallel to an already established cichlid adaptive radiation. In contrast to most other known examples of adaptive radiations, these generalist ancestors were derived from highly diverse and specialized endemics from Lake Tanganyika. A reconstruction of life-history traits revealed that in an ancestral lineage leading to the modern haplochromines the characteristic egg-spots on anal fins of male individuals evolved.
We conclude that Lake Tanganyika is the geographic and genetic cradle of all haplochromine lineages. In the ancestors of the replicate adaptive radiations of the 'modern haplochromines', behavioral (maternal mouthbrooding), morphological (egg-spots) and sexually selected (color polymorphism) key-innovations arose. These might be – together with the ecological opportunity that the habitat diversity of the large lakes provides – responsible for their evolutionary success and their propensity for explosive speciation.
PMCID: PMC554777  PMID: 15723698
11.  Complete Mitochondrial DNA Sequences of the Threadfin Cichlid (Petrochromis trewavasae) and the Blunthead Cichlid (Tropheus moorii) and Patterns of Mitochondrial Genome Evolution in Cichlid Fishes 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e67048.
The cichlid fishes of the East African Great Lakes represent a model especially suited to study adaptive radiation and speciation. With several African cichlid genome projects being in progress, a promising set of closely related genomes is emerging, which is expected to serve as a valuable data base to solve questions on genotype-phenotype relations. The mitochondrial (mt) genomes presented here are the first results of the assembly and annotation process for two closely related but eco-morphologically highly distinct Lake Tanganyika cichlids, Petrochromis trewavasae and Tropheus moorii. The genomic sequences comprise 16,588 bp (P. trewavasae) and 16,590 bp (T. moorii), and exhibit the typical mitochondrial structure, with 13 protein-coding genes, 2 rRNA genes, 22 tRNA genes, and a non-coding control region. Analyses confirmed that the two species are very closely related with an overall sequence similarity of 96%. We analyzed the newly generated sequences in the phylogenetic context of 21 published labroid fish mitochondrial genomes. Consistent with other vertebrates, the D-loop region was found to evolve faster than protein-coding genes, which in turn are followed by the rRNAs; the tRNAs vary greatly in the rate of sequence evolution, but on average evolve the slowest. Within the group of coding genes, ND6 evolves most rapidly. Codon usage is similar among examined cichlid tribes and labroid families; although a slight shift in usage patterns down the gene tree could be observed. Despite having a clearly different nucleotide composition, ND6 showed a similar codon usage. C-terminal ends of Cox1 exhibit variations, where the varying number of amino acids is related to the structure of the obtained phylogenetic tree. This variation may be of functional relevance for Cox1 synthesis.
PMCID: PMC3691221  PMID: 23826193
12.  Mitochondrial phylogeny and phylogeography of East African squeaker catfishes (Siluriformes: Synodontis) 
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.
PMCID: PMC1543664  PMID: 16784525
13.  Rapid sympatric ecological differentiation of crater lake cichlid fishes within historic times 
BMC Biology  2010;8:60.
After a volcano erupts, a lake may form in the cooled crater and become an isolated aquatic ecosystem. This makes fishes in crater lakes informative for understanding sympatric evolution and ecological diversification in barren environments. From a geological and limnological perspective, such research offers insight about the process of crater lake ecosystem establishment and speciation. In the present study we use genetic and coalescence approaches to infer the colonization history of Midas cichlid fishes (Amphilophus cf. citrinellus) that inhabit a very young crater lake in Nicaragua-the ca. 1800 year-old Lake Apoyeque. This lake holds two sympatric, endemic morphs of Midas cichlid: one with large, hypertrophied lips (~20% of the total population) and another with thin lips. Here we test the associated ecological, morphological and genetic diversification of these two morphs and their potential to represent incipient speciation.
Gene coalescence analyses [11 microsatellite loci and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences] suggest that crater lake Apoyeque was colonized in a single event from the large neighbouring great lake Managua only about 100 years ago. This founding in historic times is also reflected in the extremely low nuclear and mitochondrial genetic diversity in Apoyeque. We found that sympatric adult thin- and thick-lipped fishes occupy distinct ecological trophic niches. Diet, body shape, head width, pharyngeal jaw size and shape and stable isotope values all differ significantly between the two lip-morphs. The eco-morphological features pharyngeal jaw shape, body shape, stomach contents and stable isotopes (δ15N) all show a bimodal distribution of traits, which is compatible with the expectations of an initial stage of ecological speciation under disruptive selection. Genetic differentiation between the thin- and thick-lipped population is weak at mtDNA sequence (FST = 0.018) and absent at nuclear microsatellite loci (FST < 0.001).
This study provides empirical evidence of eco-morphological differentiation occurring very quickly after the colonization of a new and vacant habitat. Exceptionally low levels of neutral genetic diversity and inference from coalescence indicates that the Midas cichlid population in Apoyeque is much younger (ca. 100 years or generations old) than the crater itself (ca. 1 800 years old). This suggests either that the crater remained empty for many hundreds of years after its formation or that remnant volcanic activity prevented the establishment of a stable fish population during the early life of the crater lake. Based on our findings of eco-morphological variation in the Apoyeque Midas cichlids, and known patterns of adaptation in Midas cichlids in general, we suggest that this population may be in a very early stage of speciation (incipient species), promoted by disruptive selection and ecological diversification.
PMCID: PMC2880021  PMID: 20459869
14.  Nuclear and mitochondrial data reveal different evolutionary processes in the Lake Tanganyika cichlid genus Tropheus 
Cichlid fishes are notorious for their wealth of intra- and interspecific colour pattern diversity. In Lake Tanganyika, the endemic genus Tropheus represents the most impressive example for geographic variation in the pattern and hue of integument colouration, but the taxonomy of the over 100 mostly allopatric colour morphs remains to a large degree unresolved. Previous studies of mitochondrial DNA sequence data revealed polyphyly of the six nominally described species and complex phylogeographic patterns influenced by lake level fluctuations and population admixture, and suggested the parallel evolution of similar colour patterns in divergent evolutionary lineages. A gene tree of a rapidly radiating group may be subject to incomplete and stochastic lineage sorting, and to overcome this problem we used multi-locus, nuclear AFLP data in comparison with mtDNA sequences to study diversification, migration and introgression in Tropheus colour morphs in Lake Tanganyika.
Significant incongruence between phylogenetic reconstructions from mitochondrial and AFLP data suggested incomplete sorting of mitochondrial haplotypes as well as frequent introgression between differentiated lineages. In contrast to the mitochondrial phylogeny, the AFLP phenogram was largely congruent with species classifications, colour pattern similarities, and in many cases also with the current geographic distribution of populations, and did not produce evidence of convergent colour pattern evolution. Homoplasy in the AFLP data was used to identify populations that were strongly affected by introgression.
Different evolutionary processes were distinguished by the combination of mitochondrial and AFLP data. Mitochondrial phylogeographic patterns retained signals of large-scale migration events triggered by historical, major lake level fluctuations, whereas AFLP data indicated genetic cohesion among local groups of populations resulting from secondary contact of adjacent populations in the course of the more frequently occurring, minor lake level fluctuations. There was no support for the parallel evolution of similar colour patterns in the AFLP data. Genetic signatures of introgression and hybridisation detected in several populations suggest that lake level fluctuations drove the stunning diversification of Tropheus morphs not only through population fragmentation, but also by promoting hybridisation between differentiated morphs in secondary contact.
PMCID: PMC2000897  PMID: 17697335
15.  The Adaptive Radiation of Cichlid Fish in Lake Tanganyika: A Morphological Perspective 
Lake Tanganyika is the oldest of the Great Ancient Lakes in the East Africa. This lake harbours about 250 species of cichlid fish, which are highly diverse in terms of morphology, behaviour, and ecology. Lake Tanganyika's cichlid diversity has evolved through explosive speciation and is treated as a textbook example of adaptive radiation, the rapid differentiation of a single ancestor into an array of species that differ in traits used to exploit their environments and resources. To elucidate the processes and mechanisms underlying the rapid speciation and adaptive radiation of Lake Tanganyika's cichlid species assemblage it is important to integrate evidence from several lines of research. Great efforts have been, are, and certainly will be taken to solve the mystery of how so many cichlid species evolved in so little time. In the present review, we summarize morphological studies that relate to the adaptive radiation of Lake Tanganyika's cichlids and highlight their importance for understanding the process of adaptive radiation.
PMCID: PMC3119568  PMID: 21716857
16.  Sequence analyses of the distal-less homeobox gene family in East African cichlid fishes reveal signatures of positive selection 
Gen(om)e duplication events are hypothesized as key mechanisms underlying the origin of phenotypic diversity and evolutionary innovation. The diverse and species-rich lineage of teleost fishes is a renowned example of this scenario, because of the fish-specific genome duplication. Gene families, generated by this and other gene duplication events, have been previously found to play a role in the evolution and development of innovations in cichlid fishes - a prime model system to study the genetic basis of rapid speciation, adaptation and evolutionary innovation. The distal-less homeobox genes are particularly interesting candidate genes for evolutionary novelties, such as the pharyngeal jaw apparatus and the anal fin egg-spots. Here we study the dlx repertoire in 23 East African cichlid fishes to determine the rate of evolution and the signatures of selection pressure.
Four intact dlx clusters were retrieved from cichlid draft genomes. Phylogenetic analyses of these eight dlx loci in ten teleost species, followed by an in-depth analysis of 23 East African cichlid species, show that there is disparity in the rates of evolution of the dlx paralogs. Dlx3a and dlx4b are the fastest evolving dlx genes, while dlx1a and dlx6a evolved more slowly. Subsequent analyses of the nonsynonymous-synonymous substitution rate ratios indicate that dlx3b, dlx4a and dlx5a evolved under purifying selection, while signs of positive selection were found for dlx1a, dlx2a, dlx3a and dlx4b.
Our results indicate that the dlx repertoire of teleost fishes and cichlid fishes in particular, is shaped by differential selection pressures and rates of evolution after gene duplication. Although the divergence of the dlx paralogs are putative signs of new or altered functions, comparisons with available expression patterns indicate that the three dlx loci under strong purifying selection, dlx3b, dlx4a and dlx5a, are transcribed at high levels in the cichlids’ pharyngeal jaw and anal fin. The dlx paralogs emerge as excellent candidate genes for the development of evolutionary innovations in cichlids, although further functional analyses are necessary to elucidate their respective contribution.
PMCID: PMC3728225  PMID: 23865956
Distal-less homeobox gene; Molecular evolution; Cichlid fishes; Teleost fishes; Positive selection; Differential selection; Gene duplication; dN/dS
17.  Tol2-Mediated Generation of a Transgenic Haplochromine Cichlid, Astatotilapia burtoni 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e77647.
Cichlid fishes represent one of the most species-rich and rapid radiations of a vertebrate family. These ∼2200 species, predominantly found in the East African Great Lakes, exhibit dramatic differences in anatomy, physiology, and behavior. However, the genetic bases for this radiation, and for the control of their divergent traits, are unknown. A flood of genomic and transcriptomic data promises to suggest mechanisms underlying the diversity, but transgenic technology will be needed to rigorously test the hypotheses generated. Here we demonstrate the successful use of the Tol2 transposon system to generate transgenic Astatotilapia burtoni, a haplochromine cichlid from Lake Tanganyika, carrying the GFP transgene under the control of the ubiquitous EF1α promoter. The transgene integrates into the genome, is successfully passed through the germline, and the widespread GFP expression pattern is stable across siblings and multiple generations. The stable inheritance and expression patterns indicate that the Tol2 system can be applied to generate A. burtoni transgenic lines. Transgenesis has proven to be a powerful technology for manipulating genes and cells in other model organisms and we anticipate that transgenic A. burtoni and other cichlids will be used to test the mechanisms underlying behavior and speciation.
PMCID: PMC3808393  PMID: 24204902
18.  Evidence of disassortative mating in a Tanganyikan cichlid fish and its role in the maintenance of intrapopulation dimorphism 
Biology Letters  2008;4(5):497-499.
Morphological dimorphism in the mouth-opening direction (‘lefty’ versus ‘righty’) has been documented in several fish species. It has been suggested that this deflection is heritable in a Mendelian one-locus, two-allele fashion. Several population models have demonstrated that lateral dimorphism is maintained by negative frequency-dependent selection, resulting from interactions between predator and prey species. However, other mechanisms for the maintenance of lateral dimorphism have not yet been tested. Here, we found that the scale-eating cichlid fish Perissodus microlepis exhibited disassortative mating, in which reproductive pairings between lefties and righties occurred at higher than expected frequency (p<0.001). A previous study reported that a lefty–righty pairing produces a 1 : 1 ratio of lefty : righty young, suggesting that disassortative mating contributes to the maintenance of lateral dimorphism. A combination of disassortative mating and negative frequency-dependent selection may stabilize lateral dimorphism more than would a single mechanism.
PMCID: PMC2610076  PMID: 18577501
phenotypic polymorphism; scale-eating cichlid; Perissodus microlepis; Lake Tanganyika
19.  Origins of Shared Genetic Variation in African Cichlids 
Molecular Biology and Evolution  2012;30(4):906-917.
Cichlid fishes have evolved tremendous morphological and behavioral diversity in the waters of East Africa. Within each of the Great Lakes Tanganyika, Malawi, and Victoria, the phenomena of hybridization and retention of ancestral polymorphism explain allele sharing across species. Here, we explore the sharing of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) between the major East African cichlid assemblages. A set of approximately 200 genic and nongenic SNPs was ascertained in five Lake Malawi species and genotyped in a diverse collection of ∼160 species from across Africa. We observed segregating polymorphism outside of the Malawi lineage for more than 50% of these loci; this holds similarly for genic versus nongenic SNPs, as well as for SNPs at putative CpG versus non-CpG sites. Bayesian and principal component analyses of genetic structure in the data demonstrate that the Lake Malawi endemic flock is not monophyletic and that river species have likely contributed significantly to Malawi genomes. Coalescent simulations support the hypothesis that river cichlids have transported polymorphism between lake assemblages. We observed strong genetic differentiation between Malawi lineages for approximately 8% of loci, with contributions from both genic and nongenic SNPs. Notably, more than half of these outlier loci between Malawi groups are polymorphic outside of the lake. Cichlid fishes have evolved diversity in Lake Malawi as new mutations combined with standing genetic variation shared across East Africa.
PMCID: PMC3603313  PMID: 23275489
cichlid; evolution; hybridization; ancestral polymorphism; single nucleotide polymorphism; genetic differentiation
The relationship between form and function can have profound effects on evolutionary dynamics and such effects may differ for simple versus complex systems. In particular, functions produced by multiple structural configurations (many-to-one mapping, MTOM) may dampen constituent trade-offs and promote diversification. Unfortunately, we lack information about the genetic architecture of MTOM functional systems. The skulls of teleost fishes contain both simple (lower jaw levers) as well as more complex (jaws modeled as 4-bar linkages) functional systems within the same craniofacial unit. We examined the mapping of form to function and the genetic basis of these systems by identifying quantitative trait loci (QTL) in hybrids of two Lake Malawi cichlid species. Hybrid individuals exhibited novelty (transgressive segregation) in morphological components and function of the simple and complex jaw systems. Functional novelty was proportional to the prevalence of extreme morphologies in the simple levers; by contrast, recombination of parental morphologies produced transgression in the MTOM 4-bar linkage. We found multiple loci of moderate effect and epistasis controlling jaw phenotypes in both the simple and complex systems, with less phenotypic variance explained by QTL for the 4-bar. Genetic linkage between components of the simple and complex systems partly explains phenotypic correlations and may constrain functional evolution.
PMCID: PMC3490443  PMID: 23106702
Cichlid; epistasis; genomic “hotspots”; jaw; many-to-one mapping; QTL; transgressive segregation
21.  The genetic basis of a complex functional system 
The relationship between form and function can have profound effects on evolutionary dynamics and such effects may differ for simple versus complex systems. In particular, functions produced by multiple structural configurations (many-to-one mapping, MTOM) may dampen constituent trade-offs and promote diversification. Unfortunately, we lack information about the genetic architecture of MTOM functional systems. The skulls of teleost fishes contain both simple (lower jaw levers) as well as more complex (jaws modeled as 4-bar linkages) functional systems within the same craniofacial unit. We examined the mapping of form to function and the genetic basis of these systems by identifying quantitative trait loci in hybrids of two Lake Malawi cichlid species. Hybrid individuals exhibited novelty (transgressive segregation) in morphological components and function of the simple and complex jaw systems. Functional novelty was proportional to the prevalence of extreme morphologies in the simple levers; by contrast, recombination of parental morphologies produced transgression in the MTOM 4-bar linkage. We found multiple loci of moderate effect and epistasis controlling jaw phenotypes in both the simple and complex systems, with less phenotypic variance explained by QTL for the 4-bar. Genetic linkage between components of the simple and complex systems partly explains phenotypic correlations and may constrain functional evolution.
PMCID: PMC3490443  PMID: 23106702
Many-to-one-mapping; transgressive segregation; cichlid; QTL; jaw; epistasis; genomic `hotspots'
22.  B Chromosomes Have a Functional Effect on Female Sex Determination in Lake Victoria Cichlid Fishes 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(8):e1002203.
The endemic cichlid fishes in Lake Victoria are a model system for speciation through adaptive radiation. Although the evolution of the sex-determination system may also play a role in speciation, little is known about the sex-determination system of Lake Victoria cichlids. To understand the evolution of the sex-determination system in these fish, we performed cytogenetic analysis in 11 cichlid species from Lake Victoria. B chromosomes, which are present in addition to standard chromosomes, were found at a high prevalence rate (85%) in these cichlids. In one species, B chromosomes were female-specific. Cross-breeding using females with and without the B chromosomes demonstrated that the presence of the B chromosomes leads to a female-biased sex ratio in this species. Although B chromosomes were believed to be selfish genetic elements with little effect on phenotype and to lack protein-coding genes, the present study provides evidence that B chromosomes have a functional effect on female sex determination. FISH analysis using a BAC clone containing B chromosome DNA suggested that the B chromosomes are derived from sex chromosomes. Determination of the nucleotide sequences of this clone (104.5 kb) revealed the presence of several protein-coding genes in the B chromosome, suggesting that B chromosomes have the potential to contain functional genes. Because some sex chromosomes in amphibians and arthropods are thought to be derived from B chromosomes, the B chromosomes in Lake Victoria cichlids may represent an evolutionary transition toward the generation of sex chromosomes.
Author Summary
The diversity of sex chromosomes among animal species is well known, but how these sex chromosomes emerged during evolutionary history remains to be solved. One hypothesis for the origin of sex chromosomes is that a portion of the sex chromosome was derived from B chromosomes. In about 10% of eukaryotes, B chromosomes are found in addition to standard chromosomes (sex chromosomes and autosomes). B chromosomes have been thought to be selfish genetic elements with no functional effect on the phenotype of individuals and have been thought to lack protein-coding genes. Although B chromosomes share unique features with sex chromosomes, concrete evidence describing which B chromosomes have evolved to gain a function in sex determination has not been reported. In this study, we found that B chromosomes in one cichlid species from Lake Victoria have a functional effect on sex determination. Moreover, we found that they contained multiple protein-coding genes including morphogenetic related genes. These findings support the hypothesis that a portion of the sex chromosomes has been derived from B chromosomes and shed light on the study of the evolution of sex chromosomes.
PMCID: PMC3158035  PMID: 21876673
23.  Parallel evolution in Ugandan crater lakes: repeated evolution of limnetic body shapes in haplochromine cichlid fish 
BMC Evolutionary Biology  2015;15(1):9.
The enormous diversity found in East African cichlid fishes in terms of morphology, coloration, and behavior have made them a model for the study of speciation and adaptive evolution. In particular, haplochromine cichlids, by far the most species-rich lineage of cichlids, are a well-known textbook example for parallel evolution. Southwestern Uganda is an area of high tectonic activity, and is home to numerous crater lakes. Many Ugandan crater lakes were colonized, apparently independently, by a single lineage of haplochromine cichlids. Thereby, this system could be considered a natural experiment in which one can study the interaction between geographical isolation and natural selection promoting phenotypic diversification.
We sampled 13 crater lakes and six potentially-ancestral older lakes and, using both mitochondrial and microsatellite markers, discovered strong genetic and morphological differentiation whereby (a) geographically close lakes tend to be genetically more similar and (b) three different geographic areas seem to have been colonized by three independent waves of colonization from the same source population. Using a geometric morphometric approach, we found that body shape elongation (i.e. a limnetic morphology) evolved repeatedly from the ancestral deeper-bodied benthic morphology in the clear and deep crater lake habitats.
A pattern of strong genetic and morphological differentiation was observed in the Ugandan crater lakes. Our data suggest that body shape changes have repeatedly evolved into a more limnetic-like form in several Ugandan crater lakes after independent waves of colonization from the same source population. The observed morphological changes in crater lake cichlids are likely to result from a common selective regime.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12862-015-0287-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4322459  PMID: 25648727
Parallel evolution; Benthic-limnetic; Speciation
24.  Contrasting parasite communities among allopatric colour morphs of the Lake Tanganyika cichlid Tropheus 
Adaptation to different ecological environments is thought to drive ecological speciation. This phenomenon culminates in the radiations of cichlid fishes in the African Great Lakes. Multiple characteristic traits of cichlids, targeted by natural or sexual selection, are considered among the driving factors of these radiations. Parasites and pathogens have been suggested to initiate or accelerate speciation by triggering both natural and sexual selection. Three prerequisites for parasite-driven speciation can be inferred from ecological speciation theory. The first prerequisite is that different populations experience divergent infection levels. The second prerequisite is that these infection levels cause divergent selection and facilitate adaptive divergence. The third prerequisite is that parasite-driven adaptive divergence facilitates the evolution of reproductive isolation. Here we investigate the first and the second prerequisite in allopatric chromatically differentiated lineages of the rock-dwelling cichlid Tropheus spp. from southern Lake Tanganyika (Central Africa). Macroparasite communities were screened in eight populations belonging to five different colour morphs.
Parasite communities were mainly composed of acanthocephalans, nematodes, monogeneans, copepods, branchiurans, and digeneans. In two consecutive years (2011 and 2012), we observed significant variation across populations for infection with acanthocephalans, nematodes, monogeneans of the genera Gyrodactylus and Cichlidogyrus, and the copepod Ergasilus spp. Overall, parasite community composition differed significantly between populations of different colour morphs. Differences in parasite community composition were stable in time. The genetic structure of Tropheus populations was strong and showed a significant isolation-by-distance pattern, confirming that spatial isolation is limiting host dispersal. Correlations between parasite community composition and Tropheus genetic differentiation were not significant, suggesting that host dispersal does not influence parasite community diversification.
Subject to alternating episodes of isolation and secondary contact because of lake level fluctuations, Tropheus colour morphs are believed to accumulate and maintain genetic differentiation through a combination of vicariance, philopatric behaviour and mate discrimination. Provided that the observed contrasts in parasitism facilitate adaptive divergence among populations in allopatry (which is the current situation), and promote the evolution of reproductive isolation during episodes of sympatry, parasites might facilitate speciation in this genus.
PMCID: PMC3599415  PMID: 23409983
Adaptive divergence; Ectoparasite; Endoparasite; Ecological speciation; Host-parasite associations; Natural selection; Parasite-driven speciation; Sexual selection
25.  Tempo and Mode of Diversification of Lake Tanganyika Cichlid Fishes 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(3):e1730.
Understanding the causes of disparities in species diversity across taxonomic groups and regions is a fundamental aim in evolutionary biology. Addressing these questions is difficult because of the need for densely sampled phylogenies and suitable empirical systems.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Here we investigate the cichlid fish radiation of Lake Tanganyika and show that per lineage diversification rates have been more than six times slower than in the species flocks of Lakes Victoria and Malawi. The result holds even at peak periods of diversification in Lake Tanganyika, ruling out the age of the lake as an explanation for slow average rates, and is robust to uncertainties over the calibration of cichlid radiations in geological time. Moreover, Lake Tanganyika lineages, irrespective of different biological characteristics (e.g. sexually dichromatic versus sexually monochromatic clades), have diversified at similar rates, falling within typical estimates across a range of plant and animal clades. For example, the mostly sexually dichromatic haplochromines, which have speciated explosively in Lakes Victoria and Malawi, have displayed modest rates in Lake Tanganyika (where they are called Tropheini).
Our results show that either the Lake Tanganyika environment is less conducive for cichlid speciation or the remarkable diversifying abilities of the haplochromines were inhibited by the prior occupancy of older radiations. Although the results indicate a dominant role for the environment in shaping cichlid diversification, differences in the timing of diversification among the Tanganyikan tribes indicate that biological differences were still important for the dynamics of species build-up in the lake. While we cannot resolve the timing of the radiation relative to the origin of the lake, because of the lack of robust geological date calibrations for cichlids, our results are consistent with a scenario that the different clades reflect independent adaptive radiations into different broad niches in the lake.
PMCID: PMC2248707  PMID: 18320049

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