• Adaptive radiation;
  • body shape;
  • comparative method;
  • ecomorphology;
  • geometric morphometrics;
  • morphological disparity;
  • phylogenetic generalized least squares

The cichlids of East Africa are renowned as one of the most spectacular examples of adaptive radiation. They provide a unique opportunity to investigate the relationships between ecology, morphological diversity, and phylogeny in producing such remarkable diversity. Nevertheless, the parameters of the adaptive radiations of these fish have not been satisfactorily quantified yet. Lake Tanganyika possesses all of the major lineages of East African cichlid fish, so by using geometric morphometrics and comparative analyses of ecology and morphology, in an explicitly phylogenetic context, we quantify the role of ecology in driving adaptive speciation. We used geometric morphometric methods to describe the body shape of over 1000 specimens of East African cichlid fish, with a focus on the Lake Tanganyika species assemblage, which is composed of more than 200 endemic species. The main differences in shape concern the length of the whole body and the relative sizes of the head and caudal peduncle. We investigated the influence of phylogeny on similarity of shape using both distance-based and variance partitioning methods, finding that phylogenetic inertia exerts little influence on overall body shape. Therefore, we quantified the relative effect of major ecological traits on shape using phylogenetic generalized least squares and disparity analyses. These analyses conclude that body shape is most strongly predicted by feeding preferences (i.e., trophic niches) and the water depths at which species occur. Furthermore, the morphological disparity within tribes indicates that even though the morphological diversification associated with explosive speciation has happened in only a few tribes of the Tanganyikan assemblage, the potential to evolve diverse morphologies exists in all tribes. Quantitative data support the existence of extensive parallelism in several independent adaptive radiations in Lake Tanganyika. Notably, Tanganyikan mouthbrooders belonging to the C-lineage and the substrate spawning Lamprologini have evolved a multitude of different shapes from elongated and Lamprologus-like hypothetical ancestors. Together, these data demonstrate strong support for the adaptive character of East African cichlid radiations.