Nature 455, 620-626 (2 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature07285; Received 24 April 2008; Accepted 25 July 2008

Speciation through sensory drive in cichlid fish

Ole Seehausen1,2, Yohey Terai3, Isabel S. Magalhaes1,2, Karen L. Carleton4, Hillary D. J. Mrosso5, Ryutaro Miyagi3, Inke van der Sluijs6,9, Maria V. Schneider2,9, Martine E. Maan6,9, Hidenori Tachida7, Hiroo Imai8 & Norihiro Okada3

  1. Institute of Zoology, University of Bern, Baltzerstr. 6, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
  2. Eawag, Swiss Federal Institute for Aquatic Science and Technology, Centre of Ecology, Evolution & Biogeochemistry, Department of Fish Ecology & Evolution, 6047 Kastanienbaum, Switzerland
  3. Graduate School of Bioscience and Biotechnology, Tokyo Institute of Technology, 4259 Nagatsuta-cho, Midori-ku, Yokohama 226-8501, Japan
  4. Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA
  5. Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute, Mwanza Centre, PO Box 475 Mwanza, Tanzania
  6. Department of Animal Ecology, Institute of Biology, Leiden University, PO Box 9516, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
  7. Department of Biology, Faculty of Sciences, Kyushu University, Ropponmatsu, Fukuoka 810-8560, Japan
  8. Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology, Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, 484-8506 Japan
  9. Present addresses: Department of Biology, McGill University, 1205 Avenue Docteur Penfield, Montréal, Québec H3A 1B1, Canada (I.v.d.S.); The European Bioinformatics Institute, Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, Hinxton, Cambridge CB10 1SD, UK (M.V.S.); University of Texas at Austin, Integrative Biology, 1 University Station C0930, Austin, Texas 78712, USA (M.E.M.).

Correspondence to: Ole Seehausen1,2Norihiro Okada3 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to O.S. (Email: or N.O. (Email:


Theoretically, divergent selection on sensory systems can cause speciation through sensory drive. However, empirical evidence is rare and incomplete. Here we demonstrate sensory drive speciation within island populations of cichlid fish. We identify the ecological and molecular basis of divergent evolution in the cichlid visual system, demonstrate associated divergence in male colouration and female preferences, and show subsequent differentiation at neutral loci, indicating reproductive isolation. Evidence is replicated in several pairs of sympatric populations and species. Variation in the slope of the environmental gradients explains variation in the progress towards speciation: speciation occurs on all but the steepest gradients. This is the most complete demonstration so far of speciation through sensory drive without geographical isolation. Our results also provide a mechanistic explanation for the collapse of cichlid fish species diversity during the anthropogenic eutrophication of Lake Victoria.


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