Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 93, Issue 1, pp 23–30 | Cite as

Acoustic diversity in Lake Malawi’s rock-dwelling cichlids

  • Patrick D. DanleyEmail author
  • Martin Husemann
  • Justin Chetta


The cichlids of Lake Malawi are one of the world’s most species rich and phenotypically diverse groups of extant vertebrates. The extraordinary variability of this group’s color patterns, reproductive behaviors, and trophic morphologies are well documented. More recently, an additional axis of phenotypic diversity has been identified. Lake Malawi cichlids have been shown to use species-specific acoustic communication in both aggressive and reproductive encounters. However, documentation of acoustic signals used by this group is limited to a small number of taxa observed within the confines of the laboratory. This study examines the acoustic signals produced by six species spanning four genera of rock-dwelling cichlids recorded in their natural habitat, the shallow waters surrounding Thumbi West Island, Lake Malawi. Four acoustic parameters were quantified and compared between species: trill duration, number of pulses per trill, pulse duration, and pulse period. Using these characteristics, sympatric species within the genus Maylandia were easily distinguished. Furthermore, a comparison of this data to previously published acoustic data reveals possible geographic dialects within species.


Mate choice Sound production Cichlidae Reproductive isolation Speciation Metriaclima 



We thank Adam Smith and Moira van Staaden for further information on the populations they observed. Emily Rapstine provided assistance in digitizing the recordings. Arthur Popper generously provided the hydrophone and amplifier. Thomas Kocher and Karen Carleton provided PDD with the opportunity to record at Thumbi West Island. We are grateful to the University of Malawi and officials at Lake Malawi National Park for providing the facilities and permits necessary to conduct this work. We also want to thank Aimee Howe, other members of the Danley Lab, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick D. Danley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Martin Husemann
    • 1
  • Justin Chetta
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of BiologyBaylor UniversityWacoUSA
  2. 2.Medical Humanities ProgramBaylor UniversityWacoUSA
  3. 3.Baylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA

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