, Volume 791, Issue 1, pp 21–34 | Cite as

Lake level fluctuations and divergence of cichlid fish ecomorphs in Lake Tanganyika

  • Kai Winkelmann
  • Lukas Rüber
  • Martin J. Genner


Lake Tanganyika has undergone substantial climate-driven lake level fluctuations that have repeatedly changed the distribution and extent of habitat for endemic fishes. Here we consider whether patterns of population genetic structure and phenotypic divergence within the cichlid fish Telmatochromis temporalis have been affected by changing lake levels. The species has a large-bodied rock-living ecomorph and a small-bodied shell-living ecomorph, and both are found in close proximity in littoral habitats. Using mtDNA sequences we found that geographically distant (>50 km) populations within the southern lake region diverged approximately 130,000–230,000 years ago, suggesting that the regional genetic structure persisted through a low stand of over 400 m ~106,000 years ago that ended with a rise to present levels ~100,000 years ago. We also found signatures of large population expansions since this rise across the study region, suggesting that the populations positively responded to new habitat as lake levels rose to present levels. Finally, we found that geographically adjacent (<10 km) ecomorphs exhibit both significant genetic differentiation and signatures of gene flow after the lake level rise. The results suggest that local ecomorph divergence progressed with gene flow after the last major rise in lake level ~100,000, potentially facilitated by new ecological opportunities.


Ecological speciation Parallel evolution Population genetics Demographic history 



We thank H. Phiri, D. Sinyinza, J.K. Zima, L. Makasa, R. Shapola and staff at the Lake Tanganyika Research Unit, Mpulungu of the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, Republic of Zambia for their field support. We thank H.H. Büscher for help in the field and W. Salzburger for arranging research permits. For comments on the manuscript, we thank S. Hiscock, S. Koblmüller and W. Salzburger. Work was funded by a Natural History Museum Ph.D studentship and the BBSRC Collaborative Scheme for Systematics Research (CoSyst) initiative.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 851 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kai Winkelmann
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lukas Rüber
    • 3
    • 4
  • Martin J. Genner
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Life SciencesThe Natural History MuseumLondonUK
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesBristolUK
  3. 3.Naturhistorisches Museum der Burgergemeinde BernBernSwitzerland
  4. 4.Institute of Ecology and EvolutionUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland

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