Aquatic Ecology

, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 217–227 | Cite as

Speciation of endemic Lake Tana barbs (Cyprinidae, Ethiopia) driven by trophic resource partitioning; a molecular and ecomorphological approach

  • Ferdinand A. Sibbing
  • Leo A.J. Nagelkerke
  • René J.M. Stet
  • Jan W.M. Osse


A unique species flock of large barbs (Barbus spp.) from Lake Tana is presented, from the level of fish stocks to molecules. Evidence is given for the species status of 14 morphotypes of large barbs. They distinctly differ in: (1) head and body morphometrics, (2) food preferences, (3) distribution patterns, (4) maximal body size, (5) spawning area and period, and (6) molecular genetic characters. Most types show early morphological divergence at small size. Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) genes, encoding cell membrane proteins involved in defence against pathogens, were found to be diagnostic for the species' genetic identity. A strong selective pressure on particular amino acid positions in the MHC protein sequence most probably arose in response to different pathogen loads from the newly invaded ecological niches after formation of Lake Tana, ca. two million years ago.

Arguments for a sympatric origin of this species flock are discussed. An evolutionary scenario suggests a riverine ancestral Barbus intermedius invading Lake Tana after its formation by volcanic blocking of the Blue Nile river and its isolation by waterfalls. Specialisation for particular food types and disruptive selection on many feeding structures are hypothesized as the evolutionary drive in speciation. The causal relationship between the diversity in feeding structures and food types is explained from experiments and models. As an example, the potential food niche of three barb species is predicted from parameter values measured from a large set of feeding structures and tested against the actual gut contents. The co-occurrence of eight piscivorous barb species is unique for cyprinid fish, which lack oral jaw teeth and a stomach. The significance of this aquatic ecosystem as a multidisciplinary evolutionary laboratory and the need for a wise balance between exploitation and conservation is stressed.

ecomorphology evolution feeding fish stocks major histocompatibility complex molecular genetics species flock 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ferdinand A. Sibbing
    • 1
  • Leo A.J. Nagelkerke
    • 1
  • René J.M. Stet
    • 1
  • Jan W.M. Osse
    • 1
  1. 1.Wageningen Institute of Animal Sciences (WIAS)Agricultural University, Experimental Zoology Group, Cell Biology and Immunology GroupWageningenThe Netherlands

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