Species-specific population structure in rock-specialized sympatric cichlid species in Lake Tanganyika, East Africa

J Mol Evol. 2007 Jan;64(1):33-49. doi: 10.1007/s00239-006-0011-4. Epub 2006 Dec 9.


Species richness and geographical phenotypic variation in East African lacustrine cichlids are often correlated with ecological specializations and limited dispersal. This study compares mitochondrial and microsatellite genetic diversity and structure among three sympatric rock-dwelling cichlids of Lake Tanganyika, Eretmodus cyanostictus, Tropheus moorii, and Ophthalmotilapia ventralis. The species represent three endemic, phylogenetically distinct tribes (Eretmodini, Tropheini, and Ectodini), and display divergent ecomorphological and behavioral specialization. Sample locations span both continuous, rocky shoreline and a potential dispersal barrier in the form of a muddy bay. High genetic diversity and population differentiation were detected in T. moorii and E. cyanostictus, whereas much lower variation and structure were found in O. ventralis. In particular, while a 7-km-wide muddy bay curtails dispersal in all three species to a similar extent, gene flow along mostly continuous habitat appeared to be controlled by distance in E. cyanostictus, further restricted by site philopatry and/or minor habitat discontinuities in T. moorii, and unrestrained in O. ventralis. In contrast to the general pattern of high gene flow along continuous shorelines in rock-dwelling cichlids of Lake Malawi, our study identifies differences in population structure among stenotopic Lake Tanganyika species. The amount of genetic differentiation among populations was not related to the degree of geographical variation of body color, especially since more phenotypic variation is observed in O. ventralis than in the genetically highly structured E. cyanostictus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cichlids / physiology*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Fresh Water
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Species Specificity
  • Zambia


  • DNA, Mitochondrial