Cichlids are a prime model system in evolutionary research and several of the most prominent examples of adaptive radiations are found in the East African Lakes Tanganyika, Malawi and Victoria, all part of the East African cichlid radiation (EAR). In the past, great effort has been invested in reconstructing the evolutionary and biogeographic history of cichlids (Teleostei: Cichlidae). In this study, we present new divergence age estimates for the major cichlid lineages with the main focus on the EAR based on a dataset encompassing representative taxa of almost all recognized cichlid tribes and ten mitochondrial protein genes. We have thoroughly re-evaluated both fossil and geological calibration points, and we included the recently described fossil †Tugenchromis pickfordi in the cichlid divergence age estimates.
Our results estimate the origin of the EAR to Late Eocene/Early Oligocene (28.71 Ma; 95% HPD: 24.43–33.15 Ma). More importantly divergence ages of the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of several Tanganyika cichlid tribes were estimated to be substantially older than the oldest estimated maximum age of the Lake Tanganyika: Trematocarini (16.13 Ma, 95% HPD: 11.89–20.46 Ma), Bathybatini (20.62 Ma, 95% HPD: 16.88–25.34 Ma), Lamprologini (15.27 Ma; 95% HPD: 12.23–18.49 Ma). The divergence age of the crown haplochromine H-lineage is estimated to 22.8 Ma (95% HPD: 14.40–26.32 Ma) and of the Lake Malawi radiation to 4.07 Ma (95% HDP: 2.93–5.26 Ma). In addition, we recovered a novel lineage within the Lamprologini tribe encompassing only Lamprologus of the lower and central Congo drainage with its divergence estimated to the Late Miocene or early Pliocene. Furthermore we recovered two novel mitochondrial haplotype lineages within the Haplochromini tribe: ‘Orthochromis’ indermauri and ‘Haplochormis’ vanheusdeni.
Divergence time estimates of the MRCA of several Tanganyika cichlid tribes predate the age of the extant Lake Tanganyika basin, and hence are in line with the recently formulated “Melting-Pot Tanganyika” hypothesis. The radiation of the ‘Lower Congo Lamprologus clade’ might be linked with the Pliocene origin of the modern lower Congo rapids as has been shown for other Lower Congo cichlid assemblages. Finally, the age of origin of the Lake Malawi cichlid flock agrees well with the oldest age estimate for lacustrine conditions in Lake Malawi "
Classification: Evolution, Africa.
Schedel, Frederic D. B & Z. Musilova, U.K. Schliewen. 2019. "East African cichlid lineages (Teleostei: Cichlidae) might be older than their ancient host lakes: new divergence estimates for the east African cichlid radiation". BMC Evolutionary Biology. v. 19(n. 94), pp. 1-25 (crc09484) (abstract)