Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 28, Issue 1–4, pp 273–284 | Cite as

Sexual selection, reproductive behavior, and speciation in the mbuna species flock of Lake Malawi (Pisces: Cichlidae)

  • Douglas M. McElroy
  • Irv Kornfield


The cichlid species flocks of the African Great Lakes represent the most extreme case of adaptive radiation among vertebrates. Recently, attention has focused on the potential for sexual selection to drive or accelerate speciation in these fishes. Cichlids as a whole are social in nature and display complex behavior, particularly during courtship and spawning; however, the extent to which changes in species recognition cues may account for species diversity among haplochromine lineages has remained speculative. Our investigations have indicated that oral incubating haplochromines show a reduction in diversity and extent of courtship relative to substrate brooding cichlids, and apparently retain aspects of a primitive specific mate recognition system. Laboratory observations of courtship in the Malawian endemicPseudotropheus zebra suggest that organization of the spawning bout is loose, and lacking in any well defined stimulus-response chain. Interspecific comparisons of in situ courtship behavior among male mbuna, lithophilous haplochromines of Lake Malawi, revealed only one potential example of species-specific behavior, and indicated that mate choice occurred prior to the onset of intense courtship. Courtship display by male mbuna does not appear critical to species recognition and may represent an evolutionary relict. Alternatively, male courtship display may have an indirect effect on successful reproduction or may be maintained through pleiotropic effects. The mbuna display no evidence of behavioral innovation and show limited interspecific differentiation in behavioral expression. More generally, there is no evidence at present to suggest that epigamic sexual selection, acting on courtship behavior, has been a major mechanism in the diversification of the haplochromine species flocks.

Key words

Cichlids Epigamic selection Courtship behavior Species recognition Mate choice Evolution 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas M. McElroy
    • 1
  • Irv Kornfield
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Zoology & Migratory Fish Research InstituteUniversity of MaineOronoUSA

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