In Lake Malawi and Lake Victoria, cichlid fishes have diversified into hundreds of species, many reproductively isolated by mate choice. Territorial males tend to be more aggressive to similar-coloured males, facilitating coexistence of divergent colour morphs or species. Behavioural mate choice and aggression biases of species and allopatric populations of specialized rocky shore cichlids are influenced by divergent signals such as male colour. Believed to be basal to the Lake Malawi haplochromine radiation, and inhabiting shallow weedy areas of the lake and neighbouring water bodies, Astatotilapia calliptera also shows allopatric variation in colour. Here, it is demonstrated that such signal divergence is associated with tendencies of females to mate with males of their own population and also for males to preferentially attack males of their own population, indicating that preference divergence related to signal divergence in allopatry may have operated throughout the adaptive radiation of the Malawian cichlids. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2013, 110, 180–188.