AFLP genome scans suggest divergent selection on colour patterning in allopatric colour morphs of a cichlid fish


Kristina M. Sefc, Fax: +43 (0)316 9875; E-mail:


Genome scan-based tests for selection are directly applicable to natural populations to study the genetic and evolutionary mechanisms behind phenotypic differentiation. We conducted AFLP genome scans in three distinct geographic colour morphs of the cichlid fish Tropheus moorii to assess whether the extant, allopatric colour pattern differentiation can be explained by drift and to identify markers mapping to genomic regions possibly involved in colour patterning. The tested morphs occupy adjacent shore sections in southern Lake Tanganyika and are separated from each other by major habitat barriers. The genome scans revealed significant genetic structure between morphs, but a very low proportion of loci fixed for alternative AFLP alleles in different morphs. This high level of polymorphism within morphs suggested that colour pattern differentiation did not result exclusively from neutral processes. Outlier detection methods identified six loci with excess differentiation in the comparison between a bluish and a yellow-blotch morph and five different outlier loci in comparisons of each of these morphs with a red morph. As population expansions and the genetic structure of Tropheus make the outlier approach prone to false-positive signals of selection, we examined the correlation between outlier locus alleles and colour phenotypes in a genetic and phenotypic cline between two morphs. Distributions of allele frequencies at one outlier locus were indeed consistent with linkage to a colour locus. Despite the challenges posed by population structure and demography, our results encourage the cautious application of genome scans to studies of divergent selection in subdivided and recently expanded populations.