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Coloration in African Cichlids: Diversity and Constraints in Lake Malawi Endemics

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image of Netherlands Journal of Zoology
For more content, see Archives Néerlandaises de Zoologie (Vol 1-17) and Animal Biology (Vol 53 and onwards).

Male breeding coloration is an obvious and often diagnostic character for species identification among mbuna, the rock-dwelling haplochromine fishes of Lake Malawi. Colour diversification has figured prominently in most models of cichlid speciation, though considerations of colour diversity have been limited. We describe coloration for common species of mbuna by digital colour acquisition techniques and use these data to characterize coloration of the fauna. The range of colour diversity in the mbuna is great; however, patterns of diversity appear somewhat limited. A number of taxa are similar in coloration, and several areas of available colour space are under-represented relative to random expectations. Colour diversification does not appear to be phylogenetically constrained, at least within species complexes. However, weakly significant associations between coloration and ecological characteristics exist. We discuss our results in terms of potential forces acting to influence mbuna coloration, such as phylogenetic or developmental constraints and natural or sexual selection.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Zoology and Migratory Fish Research Institute, University of Maine, Orono, Maine 04469


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