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The coincidence of ecological opportunity with hybridization explains rapid adaptive radiation in Lake Mweru cichlid fishes

Meier, Joana I.; Stelkens, Rike B.; Joyce, Domino A.; Mwaiko, Salome; Phiri, Numel; Schliewen, Ulrich K.; Selz, Oliver M.; Wagner, Catherine E.; Katongo, Cyprian; Seehausen, Ole


Joana I. Meier

Rike B. Stelkens

Salome Mwaiko

Numel Phiri

Ulrich K. Schliewen

Oliver M. Selz

Catherine E. Wagner

Cyprian Katongo

Ole Seehausen


© 2019, The Author(s). The process of adaptive radiation wasclassically hypothesized to require isolation of a lineage from its source (no gene flow) and from related species (no competition). Alternatively, hybridization between species may generate genetic variation that facilitates adaptive radiation. Here we study haplochromine cichlid assemblages in two African Great Lakes to test these hypotheses. Greater biotic isolation (fewer lineages) predicts fewer constraints by competition and hence more ecological opportunity in Lake Bangweulu, whereas opportunity for hybridization predicts increased genetic potential in Lake Mweru. In Lake Bangweulu, we find no evidence for hybridizationbut also no adaptive radiation. We show that the Bangweulu lineages also colonized Lake Mweru, where they hybridized with Congolese lineages and then underwent multiple adaptive radiationsthat are strikingly complementary in ecology and morphology. Our data suggestthat the presence of several related lineages does not necessarily prevent adaptive radiation, although it constrains the trajectories of morphological diversification. It might instead facilitate adaptive radiation when hybridization generates genetic variation, without which radiation may start much later, progress more slowly or never occur.


Meier, J. I., Stelkens, R. B., Joyce, D. A., Mwaiko, S., Phiri, N., Schliewen, U. K., …Seehausen, O. (2019). The coincidence of ecological opportunity with hybridization explains rapid adaptive radiation in Lake Mweru cichlid fishes. Nature communications, 10(1),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 22, 2019
Online Publication Date Dec 3, 2019
Publication Date 2019-12
Deposit Date Dec 3, 2019
Publicly Available Date Oct 27, 2022
Journal Nature Communications
Electronic ISSN 2041-1723
Publisher Nature Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 10
Issue 1
Keywords Adaptive radiation; Evolutionary ecology; Evolutionary genetics; Ichthyology
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Received: 28 April 2019; Accepted: 22 October 2019; First Online: 3 December 2019; : The authors declare no competing interests.


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Copyright Statement
© The Author(s) 2019. Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit

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