Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 187–202 | Cite as

Species concepts, speciation, and taxonomic change in the Lake Malawi mbuna, with special reference to the genus Labeotropheus Ahl 1927 (Perciformes: Cichlidae)



While the debate over species concepts and criteria affects all organisms on Earth, no group of organisms demonstrates a need for a consilient, universal species concept better than the haplochromine cichlids of Lake Malawi. These fishes, which are the single greatest radiation of vertebrates on the planet, are a daunting taxonomic puzzle for ichthyologists and evolutionary biologists who try to piece together the history and diversity of these fishes. Accordingly, a number of attempts to apply species concepts to these fishes have been attempted, though rarely with a satisfactory outcome. Focusing on the rock-dwelling cichlids, or mbuna, of Lake Malawi, I evaluate the species concepts that have been applied to these fishes, and conclude that the consilient formulation of the Evolutionary Species Concept is the most appropriate species concept to apply to both our current understanding of the mbuna, and future investigations of mbuna speciation and taxonomy. To further demonstrate the applicability and utility of the Evolutionary Species Concept, I provide a closer examination of the genus Labeotropheus, which has been overlooked in recent taxonomic investigations of the mbuna. While most other mbuna genera have had additional, formally described species added to them, if not additional provisionally named species, Labeotropheus has been ignored, largely due to inappropriately applied species concepts and criteria. I provide a possible research program for the Labeotropheus, based on the consilient formulation of the Evolutionary Species Concept, culminating in the description of new species.


Lake Malawi Speciation Adaptive radiation Species concepts Evolutionary species concept Allopatry Taxonomy Labeotropheus 



This work was supported by an American Cichlid Association Guy D. Jordan Fellowship, the Milwaukee County Zoological Society, and the Clifford Mortimer and Ruth Walker funds of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Postdoctoral support was provided by Jay and Maureen Neitz during the preparation of this manuscript. Ad Konings graciously provided almost all of the images of Labeotropheus (except for L. fuelleborni Katale) and the map used in Fig. 1. Discussions with Harvey Bootsma, Tim Ehlinger, Randy Mooi, and Jeff McKinnon inspired and improved the ideas presented herein. Joshua M. Kapfer and Craig S. Berg commented on the manuscript during various stages of its preparation, and made several helpful suggestions. The final version of the manuscript was greatly improved due to the comments and input of an anonymous reviewer. I am indebted to my amazing wife, Montine R. Pauers, for her financial and emotional support during the finalization of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Natural and Health SciencesCarroll UniversityWaukeshaUSA

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