Molecular phylogeny of Oreochromis (Cichlidae, Oreochromini) reveals mito-nuclear discordance and multiple colonisation of adverse aquatic environments

Antonia G P Ford, Thomas R Bullen, Longson Pang, Martin J Genner, Roger Bills, Tomáš Flouri, Benjamin P Ngatunga, Lukas Rüber, Ulrich K Schliewen, Ole Seehausen, Asilatu Shechonge, Melanie L J Stiassny, George F Turner, Julia J Day

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

35 Citations (Scopus)
219 Downloads (Pure)


Although the majority of cichlid diversity occurs in the African Great Lakes, these fish have also diversified across the African continent. Such continental radiations, occurring in both rivers and lakes have received far less attention than lacustrine radiations despite some members, such as the oreochromine cichlids (commonly referred to as ‘tilapia’), having significant scientific and socio-economic importance both within and beyond their native range. Unique among cichlids, several species of the genus Oreochromis exhibit adaptation to soda conditions (including tolerance to elevated temperatures and salinity), which are of interest from evolutionary biology research and aquaculture perspectives. Questions remain regarding the factors facilitating the diversification of this group, which to date have not been addressed within a phylogenetic framework. Here we present the first comprehensive (32/37 described species) multi-marker molecular phylogeny of Oreochromis and closely related Alcolapia, based on mitochondrial (1583 bp) and nuclear (3092 bp) sequence data. We show widespread discordance between nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA trees. This could be the result of incomplete lineage sorting and/or introgression in mitochondrial loci, although we did not find a strong signal for the latter. Based on our nuclear phylogeny we demonstrate that adaptation to adverse conditions (elevated salinity, temperature, or alkalinity) has occurred multiple times within Oreochromis, but that adaptation to extreme (soda) conditions (high salinity, temperature, and alkalinity) has likely arisen once in the lineage leading to O. amphimelas and Alcolapia. We also show Alcolapia is nested within Oreochromis, which is in agreement with previous studies, and here revise the taxonomy to synonymise the genus in Oreochromis, retaining the designation as subgenus Oreochromis (Alcolapia).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-226
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Early online date8 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019


  • Tilapia
  • Alcolapia
  • Ancestral state reconstruction
  • Mito-nuclear discordance
  • Introgression
  • Incomplete lineage sorting
  • Taxonomic revision


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