Phylogeny, genetic variability and colour polymorphism of an emerging animal model: the short-lived annual Nothobranchius fishes from southern Mozambique

Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2011 Dec;61(3):739-49. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2011.06.010. Epub 2011 Jun 25.


Nothobranchius are a group of small, extremely short-lived killifishes living in temporary savannah pools in Eastern Africa and that survive annual desiccation of their habitat as dormant eggs encased in dry mud. One mitochondrial (COI) and three nuclear (CX32.2, GHITM, PNP) loci were used to investigate the phylogenetic relationship of Nothobranchius species from southern and central Mozambique. This group shows marked variation in captive lifespan at both the inter- and intraspecific levels; lifespan varies from a few months to over a year. As their distribution encompasses a steep gradient between semi-arid and humid habitats, resulting in contrasting selection pressures on evolution of lifespan and associated life history traits, Mozambican Nothobranchius spp. have recently become a model group in studies of ageing, age-related disorders and life history evolution. Consequently, intraspecific genetic variation and male colour morph distribution was also examined in the recovered clades. Using Bayesian species tree reconstruction and single loci analyses, three large clades were apparent and their phylogenetic substructure was revealed at the inter- and intra-specific levels within those clades. The Nothobranchius furzeri and Nothobranchius orthonotus clades were strongly geographically structured. Further, it was demonstrated that male colour has no phylogenetic signal in N. furzeri, where colour morphs are sympatric, but is associated with two reciprocally monophyletic groups in Nothobranchius rachovii clade, where colour morphs are parapatric. Finally, our analysis showed that a polymorphism in the Melanocortin1 receptor gene (which controls pigmentation in many vertebrates and was a candidate gene of male colouration in N. furzeri) is unrelated to colour phenotypes of the study species. Our results raise significant implications for future comparative studies of the species and populations analysed in the present work.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / genetics
  • Female
  • Fishes / genetics*
  • Fishes / growth & development*
  • Genetic Loci / genetics
  • Longevity / genetics*
  • Male
  • Models, Animal*
  • Mozambique
  • Phylogeny*
  • Pigmentation / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Receptors, Melanocortin / genetics


  • Receptors, Melanocortin
  • Electron Transport Complex IV