Ongoing ecological divergence in an emerging genomic model



    1. Division of Human Biology, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA 98109-1024, USA and Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada
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Matthew E. Arnegard, Fax: (+1) 206 667 2917; E-mail:


Much of Earth’s biodiversity has arisen through adaptive radiation. Important avenues of phenotypic divergence during this process include the evolution of body size and life history (Schluter 2000). Extensive adaptive radiations of cichlid fishes have occurred in the Great Lakes of Africa, giving rise to behaviours that are remarkably sophisticated and diverse across species. In Tanganyikan shell-brooding cichlids of the tribe Lamprologini, tremendous intraspecific variation in body size accompanies complex breeding systems and use of empty snail shells to hide from predators and rear offspring. A study by Takahashi et al. (2009) in this issue of Molecular Ecology reveals the first case of genetic divergence between dwarf and normal-sized morphs of the same nominal lamprologine species, Telmatochromis temporalis. Patterns of population structure suggest that the dwarf, shell-dwelling morph of T. temporalis might have arisen from the normal, rock-dwelling morph independently in more than one region of the lake, and that pairs of morphs at different sites may represent different stages early in the process of ecological speciation. The findings of Takahashi et al. are important first steps towards understanding the evolution of these intriguing morphs, yet many questions remain unanswered about the mating system, gene flow, plasticity and selection. Despite these limitations, descriptive work like theirs takes on much significance in African cichlids due to forthcoming resources for comparative genomics.