, Volume 791, Issue 1, pp 193–207 | Cite as

Allopatric speciation in the desert: diversification of cichlids at their geographical and ecological range limit in Iran

  • Julia Schwarzer
  • Naghme Shabani
  • Hamid Reza Esmaeili
  • Salome Mwaiko
  • Ole Seehausen


Cichlids are textbook examples for rapid diversification and high species diversity. While in South America, several hundred and in Africa, more than 1500 species of cichlid fish have been described, only one single cichlid species, Iranocichla hormuzensis Coad 1982, was known from Iran, the easternmost range margin of the species-rich African cichlids (Cichlidae: Pseudocrenilabrinae). The aim of our paper was to assess the genetic and phenotypic diversity among populations of Iranocichla across most of its geographical range in Southern Iran. For this, we sequenced two mitochondrial genes and collected color observation of male nuptial coloration in different habitats. Besides conspicuous differences in male nuptial coloration, we found considerable genetic differentiation among Iranocichla populations pointing to the existence of at least two allopatric species, with no evidence of more than one species at one site. Diversification within Iranocichla started, based on our data, in the middle or late Pleistocene and was followed by further population differentiation and bottlenecks during isolation events in the last glacial maximum. Population dispersal leading to the population structure observed today most likely occurred in the course of the early Holocene sea-level rise.


Iranian cichlids Cichlidae Iranocichla Vicariant speciation Last glacial maximum 



We are pleased to thank M. Masoudi, H. Mehraban, and A. Gholamifard for their help during field work and with photography. We also thank Vafadar and H. Hashemi from Hormuzgan Environment Department for supporting us with field trip facilities. We further thank Hannes Svardal, Ralph Peters, Stephan Koblmüller, and two anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. The research work was funded by the Shiraz University and was approved by the Ethics Committee of Biology Department (ECBD-SU-9233856). The genetic work was funded by Swiss Science Foundation grant 31003A_144046 to OS.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Fish Ecology and Evolution, Center for Ecology, Evolution & BiogeochemistryEawag Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and TechnologyKastanienbaumSwitzerland
  2. 2.Division of Aquatic Ecology, Institute of Ecology & EvolutionUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  3. 3.Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum KoenigBonnGermany
  4. 4.Laboratoire d’Ecologiee Alpine (LECA), UMR-CNRS 5553Université Joseph FourierGrenoble Cedex 9France
  5. 5.Ichthyology and Molecular Systematics Lab., Department of Biology, College of SciencesShiraz UniversityShirazIran
  6. 6.Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary BiologyPlönGermany

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