, Volume 748, Issue 1, pp 145–160 | Cite as

Geometric morphometrics reveals surprising diversity in the Lake Malawi cichlid genus Labeotropheus

  • Michael J. Pauers
  • Scott A. McMillan


The Lake Malawi cichlid genus Labeotropheus has been a source of confusion among biologists and taxonomists. Although unique populations of both L. fuelleborni and L. trewavasae exist throughout the lake, these populations have not been elevated to species, despite taxonomists doing so for populations within other Lake Malawi cichlids. One reason for this oversight is the supposed consistent differences in morphology between Labeotropheus species; since, where they co-occur, L. fuelleborni is always deeper-bodied than L. trewavasae, it is thought that all deep-bodied populations of Labeotropheus are L. fuelleborni, and the slender ones are L. trewavasae. Using geometric morphometrics, we analyze 18 populations of Labeotropheus and show that body shape varies among populations, and does not always fall into a deep-body/slender-body dichotomy. These differences in body shape are not related to geographical distance among populations, but are possibly related to the type of habitat in which the populations are found. Further, head shape is extremely variable among populations, and we find two locations where there is convergence in head shape between sympatric L. fuelleborni and L. trewavasae. Our results suggest that the morphological criteria applied to the Labeotropheus are not accurate, and hamper the recognition of Labeotropheus biodiversity.


Labeotropheus Morphology Geometric morphometrics Head shape Habitat type Species concepts Species criteria Lake Malawi Cichlid 



This manuscript is dedicated to the late Mr. Joseph Aaron, MJP’s finest and most influential mentor. Conversations with C.S. Berg (Milwaukee County Zoological Gardens) inspired the research detailed in this manuscript. We thank B.A. Brown (American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, USA), J. Maclaine (British Museum of Natural History, London, Great Britain), K. Hartel (Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology, Cambridge, MA, USA), J. Williams (Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC, USA), D. Nelson (University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, Ann Arbor, MI, USA), M. Parrent and J. Snoeks (Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium), and P. Bartsch and C. Lamour (Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, Germany) for the loan of material under their care. R. Henderson, S. Borkin, and E. Censky provided workspace and financial support for MJP at MPM. The comments of R. Henderson and several anonymous reviewers greatly improved this manuscript. This research was supported by the Orth Ichthyology Research Endowment at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Section of Vertebrate ZoologyThe Milwaukee Public MuseumMilwaukeeUSA
  2. 2.University of Wisconsin – Waukesha1500 N. University DriveWaukeshaUSA

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