An exploration of the links between parasites, trophic ecology, morphology, and immunogenetics in the Lake Tanganyika cichlid radiation

Hydrobiologia. 2019;832(1):215-233. doi: 10.1007/s10750-018-3798-2. Epub 2018 Oct 26.


Differences in habitat and diet between species are often associated with morphological differences. Habitat and trophic adaptation have therefore been proposed as important drivers of speciation and adaptive radiation. Importantly, habitat and diet shifts likely impose changes in exposure to different parasites and infection risk. As strong selective agents influencing survival and mate choice, parasites might play an important role in host diversification. We explore this possibility for the adaptive radiation of Lake Tanganyika (LT) cichlids. We first compare metazoan macroparasites infection levels between cichlid tribes. We then describe the cichlids' genetic diversity at the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), which plays a key role in vertebrate immunity. Finally, we evaluate to what extent trophic ecology and morphology explain variation in infection levels and MHC, accounting for phylogenetic relationships. We show that different cichlid tribes in LT feature partially non-overlapping parasite communities and partially non-overlapping MHC diversity. While morphology explained 15% of the variation in mean parasite abundance, trophic ecology accounted for 16% and 22% of the MHC variation at the nucleotide and at the amino acid level, respectively. Parasitism and immunogenetic adaptation may thus add additional dimensions to the LT cichlid radiation.

Keywords: Immunogenetics; Macroparasites; Morphology; Parasites; Trophic ecology.