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Sympatric speciation in Nicaraguan crater lake cichlid fish


Sympatric speciation, the formation of species in the absence of geographical barriers, remains one of the most contentious concepts in evolutionary biology. Although speciation under sympatric conditions seems theoretically possible1,2,3,4,5, empirical studies are scarce and only a few credible examples of sympatric speciation exist6. Here we present a convincing case of sympatric speciation in the Midas cichlid species complex (Amphilophus sp.) in a young and small volcanic crater lake in Nicaragua. Our study includes phylogeographic, population-genetic (based on mitochondrial DNA, microsatellites and amplified fragment length polymorphisms), morphometric and ecological analyses. We find, first, that crater Lake Apoyo was seeded only once by the ancestral high-bodied benthic species Amphilophus citrinellus, the most common cichlid species in the area; second, that a new elongated limnetic species (Amphilophus zaliosus) evolved in Lake Apoyo from the ancestral species (A. citrinellus) within less than 10,000 yr; third, that the two species in Lake Apoyo are reproductively isolated; and fourth, that the two species are eco-morphologically distinct.

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Figure 1: The study area.
Figure 2: Phylogeography of the Lake Apoyo Amphilophus species.
Figure 3: Bayesian population assignment test.
Figure 4: Eco-morphological assessment of Lake Apoyo's Amphilophus sp.


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We thank the Ministry of Natural Resources (MARENA) in Nicaragua for collection permits; Z. Pérez for support in the field; C. Chang-Rudolf, K. Hofmann, Y. Chiari and N. Feiner for technical assistance in the laboratory; and S. Gavrilets, T. Price and E. B. Taylor for comments on the manuscript. This work was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft priority program 1127 (‘Adaptive radiations’).

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Correspondence to Axel Meyer.

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GenBank accession numbers for all mitochondrial control region sequences can be found in Supplementary Table 1. Reprints and permissions information is available at The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Table 1

List of species, sample number, geographic origin for the Lake Apoyo fish, sampling localities, GenBank accession numbers of mitochondrial control region sequences, and haplotype numbers. Species Specimen ID Lake Locality Accesion No. Haplotype. (PDF 87 kb)

Supplementary Table 2

Mismatch analysis parameters. (PDF 2116 kb)

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Barluenga, M., Stölting, K., Salzburger, W. et al. Sympatric speciation in Nicaraguan crater lake cichlid fish. Nature 439, 719–723 (2006).

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