Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 59, Issue 5, pp 704–713 | Cite as

Can male-male competition stabilize speciation? A test in Lake Victoria haplochromine cichlid fish

  • Peter D. Dijkstra
  • Ole Seehausen
  • Boye L. A. Gricar
  • Martine E. Maan
  • Ton G. G. Groothuis
Original Article


It has been suggested that sympatric speciation can be driven by sexual selection on male mating traits alone. However, a fundamental problem for this process is the lack of ecological differentiation that would stabilize the coexistence of incipient species through frequency-dependent selection. Such selection can also occur if male aggression is primarily directed towards similar rather than towards dissimilar phenotypes, so that rare male phenotypes would enjoy a negatively frequency-dependent fitness advantage. We experimentally tested such an aggression bias in two recently diverged, ecologically and anatomically similar sympatric cichlid species pairs of the genus Pundamilia from Lake Victoria. Territorial males of a pair of partially reproductively isolated species with red and blue nuptial coloration, respectively, studied in the laboratory were confronted simultaneously with both colour types enclosed in transparent tubes. Red males were more aggressive to red stimuli under white light but not when colour differences were masked under green light. Blue males were equally aggressive to both stimuli in both light conditions. Males of two apparently fully reproductively isolated species, again one with red and one with blue nuptial coloration, studied in the field, both directed more aggressive behaviour towards conspecific than towards heterospecific stimulus males. The differential allocation of aggression would create an advantage for males of the less abundant phenotype or species, thereby potentially supporting stable coexistence of the phenotypes. The finding that this effect was less clear in the partially reproductively isolated species pair than in the fully isolated species pair is discussed.


Haplochromine cichlids Pundamilia Lake Victoria Sexual selection Sympatric speciation Male-male competition Aggression 



We thank the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology for research permission and the Tanzanian Fisheries Research Institute (Philip Bwathondi, Egid Katunzi and S.B. Mahongo) for hospitality and assistance. We thank Kees Hofker, Machteld Verzijden, Inke van der Sluijs, Marcel Haesler and John Mrosso for their help in the field. Mhoja Kayeba and Mohamed Haluna are greatly acknowledged for their expertise in the field. We thank Roelie Veenstra-Wiegman and Sjoerd Veenstra for their assistance with fish care; Serge Daan and two reviewers are acknowledged for improving the manuscript; and Franjo Weissing, Sander van Doorn and Han Verkiel are acknowledged for stimulating discussions. The research was financed by an NWO (SLW) grant 810.64.013. The research was carried out with an animal experiment licence (DEC 2812) from Groningen University and complied with current laws in The Netherlands.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter D. Dijkstra
    • 1
  • Ole Seehausen
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Boye L. A. Gricar
    • 1
  • Martine E. Maan
    • 5
  • Ton G. G. Groothuis
    • 1
  1. 1.Research Group Behavioural BiologyUniversity of GroningenHarenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Biological Sciences, Molecular and Evolutionary Ecology GroupUniversity of HullHullUK
  3. 3.Aquatic Ecology and Macroevolution, Institute of ZoologyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  4. 4.Fish Ecology and EvolutionEAWAG Limnological Research CentreKastanienbaumSwitzerland
  5. 5.Department of Animal Ecology, Institute of BiologyUniversity of LeidenLeidenThe Netherlands

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