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Keywords:

  • Adaptive radiation;
  • cichlids;
  • East Africa;
  • models/simulations;
  • morphological evolution

Patterns of morphological disparity yield important insight into the causes of diversification and adaptive radiation in East African cichlids. However, comparisons of cichlid disparity have often failed to consider the effects that differing clade ages or stochasticity may have on disparity before making interpretations. Here, a model of branching morphological evolution allows assessment of the relative contributions of differing turnover and morphological change rates, clade ages, and stochastic variation to the observed patterns of disparity in four endemic tribes of Lake Tanganyika cichlids. Simulations compare the likelihood of generating the observed disparity of the four tribes using 200-parameter combinations and four model conditioning variations, which allows inference of evolutionary rate differences among clades. The model is generally robust to model conditioning, the approach to data analysis, and model assumptions. Disparity differences among the first three cichlid tribes, Ectodini, Lamprologini, and Tropheini, can be explained entirely by stochasticity and age, whereas the fourth tribe, Cyprichromini, has likely experienced lower rates of turnover and morphological change. This rate difference is likely related to the low dietary diversity of the Cyprichromini. These results highlight the importance of considering both clade age and stochastic variation when interpreting morphological diversity and evolutionary processes.