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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Nuclear and mitochondrial data reveal different evolutionary processes in the Lake Tanganyika cichlid genus Tropheus

Bernd Egger, Stephan Koblmüller, Christian Sturmbauer and Kristina M Sefc*

Author Affiliations

Department of Zoology, University of Graz, Universitätsplatz 2, 8010 Graz, Austria

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:137  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-137

Published: 14 August 2007

Abstract

Background

Cichlid fishes are notorious for their wealth of intra- and interspecific colour pattern diversity. In Lake Tanganyika, the endemic genus Tropheus represents the most impressive example for geographic variation in the pattern and hue of integument colouration, but the taxonomy of the over 100 mostly allopatric colour morphs remains to a large degree unresolved. Previous studies of mitochondrial DNA sequence data revealed polyphyly of the six nominally described species and complex phylogeographic patterns influenced by lake level fluctuations and population admixture, and suggested the parallel evolution of similar colour patterns in divergent evolutionary lineages. A gene tree of a rapidly radiating group may be subject to incomplete and stochastic lineage sorting, and to overcome this problem we used multi-locus, nuclear AFLP data in comparison with mtDNA sequences to study diversification, migration and introgression in Tropheus colour morphs in Lake Tanganyika.

Results

Significant incongruence between phylogenetic reconstructions from mitochondrial and AFLP data suggested incomplete sorting of mitochondrial haplotypes as well as frequent introgression between differentiated lineages. In contrast to the mitochondrial phylogeny, the AFLP phenogram was largely congruent with species classifications, colour pattern similarities, and in many cases also with the current geographic distribution of populations, and did not produce evidence of convergent colour pattern evolution. Homoplasy in the AFLP data was used to identify populations that were strongly affected by introgression.

Conclusion

Different evolutionary processes were distinguished by the combination of mitochondrial and AFLP data. Mitochondrial phylogeographic patterns retained signals of large-scale migration events triggered by historical, major lake level fluctuations, whereas AFLP data indicated genetic cohesion among local groups of populations resulting from secondary contact of adjacent populations in the course of the more frequently occurring, minor lake level fluctuations. There was no support for the parallel evolution of similar colour patterns in the AFLP data. Genetic signatures of introgression and hybridisation detected in several populations suggest that lake level fluctuations drove the stunning diversification of Tropheus morphs not only through population fragmentation, but also by promoting hybridisation between differentiated morphs in secondary contact.