Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 64, Issue 1, pp 33–49 | Cite as

Species-Specific Population Structure in Rock-Specialized Sympatric Cichlid Species in Lake Tanganyika, East Africa

  • Kristina M. Sefc
  • Sanja Baric
  • Walter Salzburger
  • Christian Sturmbauer


Species richness and geographical phenotypic variation in East African lacustrine cichlids are often correlated with ecological specializations and limited dispersal. This study compares mitochondrial and microsatellite genetic diversity and structure among three sympatric rock-dwelling cichlids of Lake Tanganyika, Eretmodus cyanostictus, Tropheus moorii, and Ophthalmotilapia ventralis. The species represent three endemic, phylogenetically distinct tribes (Eretmodini, Tropheini, and Ectodini), and display divergent ecomorphological and behavioral specialization. Sample locations span both continuous, rocky shoreline and a potential dispersal barrier in the form of a muddy bay. High genetic diversity and population differentiation were detected in T. moorii and E. cyanostictus, whereas much lower variation and structure were found in O. ventralis. In particular, while a 7-km-wide muddy bay curtails dispersal in all three species to a similar extent, gene flow along mostly continuous habitat appeared to be controlled by distance in E. cyanostictus, further restricted by site philopatry and/or minor habitat discontinuities in T. moorii, and unrestrained in O. ventralis. In contrast to the general pattern of high gene flow along continuous shorelines in rock-dwelling cichlids of Lake Malawi, our study identifies differences in population structure among stenotopic Lake Tanganyika species. The amount of genetic differentiation among populations was not related to the degree of geographical variation of body color, especially since more phenotypic variation is observed in O. ventralis than in the genetically highly structured E. cyanostictus.


Genetic differentiation Population expansion Isolation by distance Philopatry Habitat heterogeneity Geographic color variation 



We thank L. Mwape, C. Mwelwa, and their team at the Mpulungu Station of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Republic of Zambia, and M. Nabuyanda for their help during fieldwork. Stephan Koblmüller and two anonymous reviewers provided insightful comments on the manuscript. Some of the data were collected in the course of master’s theses by Cornelia Rhomberg, Andreas Gallmetzer, and Beate Kirchberger. K.M.S., C.S., and S.B. were supported by the Austrian Science Foundation (P14724, P15239, and P17380) and the Jubiläumsfond der Österreichischen Nationalbank; W.S. was supported by a DOC fellowship from the Austrian Academy of Sciences and a Marie Curie fellowship from the EU.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristina M. Sefc
    • 1
  • Sanja Baric
    • 2
  • Walter Salzburger
    • 3
    • 4
  • Christian Sturmbauer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyKarl Franzens University of GrazGrazAustria
  2. 2.Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry LaimburgAuer/OraItaly
  3. 3.Lehrstuhl für Zoologie und Evolutionsbiologie, Department of Biology, and Center for Junior Research FellowsUniversity of KonstanzKonstanzGermany
  4. 4.Department of Ecology and EvolutionUniversity of Lausanne, Le BiophoreLausanneSwitzerland

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