Lake level fluctuations and divergence of cichlid fish ecomorphs in Lake Tanganyika

Kai Winkelmann, Lukas Ruber, Martin J Genner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
425 Downloads (Pure)


Lake Tanganyika has undergone substantial climate-driven lake level fluctuations that have repeatedly changed the distribution and extent of habitat for endemic fishes. Here we consider whether patterns of population genetic structure and phenotypic divergence within the cichlid fish Telmatochromis temporalis have been associated with changing lake levels. The species has a large-bodied rock-living ecomorph and a small-bodied shell-living ecomorph, and both are found in close proximity in littoral habitats. Using mtDNA sequences we found that geographically distant (>50km) populations within the southern lake region diverged approximately 130,000-230,000 years ago, suggesting regional genetic structure persisted through a low stand of over 400 metres ~106,000 years ago that ended with a rise to present levels ~100,000 years ago. We also found signatures of large population expansions since this rise across the study region, suggesting populations positively responded to new habitat as lake levels rose to present levels. Finally, we found geographically adjacent (< 10 km) ecomorphs exhibit both significant genetic differentiation and signatures of gene flow after the lake level rise. The results suggest local ecomorph divergence progressed with gene flow after the last major rise in lake level ~100,000 years ago, potentially facilitated by new ecological opportunities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-34
Number of pages14
Issue number1
Early online date8 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2017


  • ecological speciation
  • parallel evolution
  • population genetics
  • demographic history


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