Can male-male competition stabilize speciation? A test in Lake Victoria haplochromine cichlid fish

Peter D. Dijkstra, Ole Seehausen, Boye L.A. Gricar, Martine E. Maan, Ton G.G. Groothuis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


It has been suggested that sympatric speciation can be driven by sexual selection on male mating traits alone. However, a fundamental problem for this process is the lack of ecological differentiation that would stabilize the coexistence of incipient species through frequency-dependent selection. Such selection can also occur if male aggression is primarily directed towards similar rather than towards dissimilar phenotypes, so that rare male phenotypes would enjoy a negatively frequency-dependent fitness advantage. We experimentally tested such an aggression bias in two recently diverged, ecologically and anatomically similar sympatric cichlid species pairs of the genus Pundamilia from Lake Victoria. Territorial males of a pair of partially reproductively isolated species with red and blue nuptial coloration, respectively, studied in the laboratory were confronted simultaneously with both colour types enclosed in transparent tubes. Red males were more aggressive to red stimuli under white light but not when colour differences were masked under green light. Blue males were equally aggressive to both stimuli in both light conditions. Males of two apparently fully reproductively isolated species, again one with red and one with blue nuptial coloration, studied in the field, both directed more aggressive behaviour towards conspecific than towards heterospecific stimulus males. The differential allocation of aggression would create an advantage for males of the less abundant phenotype or species, thereby potentially supporting stable coexistence of the phenotypes. The finding that this effect was less clear in the partially reproductively isolated species pair than in the fully isolated species pair is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)704-713
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2006


  • Aggression
  • Haplochromine cichlids
  • Lake Victoria
  • Male-male competition
  • Pundamilia
  • Sexual selection
  • Sympatric speciation


Dive into the research topics of 'Can male-male competition stabilize speciation? A test in Lake Victoria haplochromine cichlid fish'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this