Male–male competition and speciation: aggression bias towards differently coloured rivals varies between stages of speciation in a Lake Victoria cichlid species complex


Peter D. Dijkstra, Department of Behavioural Biology, University of Groningen, PO Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, the Netherlands.
Tel.: +31-50-3637850; fax: +31-50-363520;


Sympatric speciation driven by sexual selection by female mate choice on a male trait is a much debated topic. The process is problematic because of the lack of negative frequency-dependent selection that can facilitate the invasion of a novel colour phenotype and stabilize trait polymorphism. It has recently been proposed that male–male competition for mating territories can generate frequency-dependent selection on male colouration. Rare male cichlid fish would enjoy a fitness advantage if territorial defenders bias aggression towards male cichlid fish of their own colour. We used blue (ancestral type) and red phenotypes of the Lake Victoria cichlid species complex Pundamilia. We tested the aggression bias of wild-caught territorial blue male cichlid fish from five separate populations for blue vs. red rival male cichlid fish using simulated intruder choice tests. The different populations vary in the frequency of red male cichlid fish, and in the degree of reproductive isolation between red and blue, reflecting different stages of speciation. Blue male cichlid fish from a population that lack red phenotypes biased aggression towards blue stimulus male cichlid fish. The same was found in two populations where blue and red are reproductively isolated sister species. This aggression bias may facilitate the invasion of a novel colour phenotype and species coexistence. Blue male cichlid fish from two populations where red and blue are hybridizing incipient species biased aggression towards red stimulus male cichlid fish. Thus, after a successful invasion of red, aggression bias alone is not likely to generate frequency dependence required to stabilize the coexistence of phenotypes. The findings show that aggression bias varies between stages of speciation, but is not enough to stabilize the process of speciation.