Color polymorphism and intrasexual competition in assemblages of cichlid fish

Peter D. Dijkstra, Charlotte Hemelrijk, Ole Seehausen, Ton G.G. Groothuis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


The origin and maintenance of phenotypic polymorphisms is a classical problem in evolutionary ecology. Aggressive male-male competition can be a source of negative frequency-dependent selection stabilizing phenotypic polymorphisms when aggression is biased toward the own morph. We studied experimental assemblages of red and blue color morphs of the Lake Victoria cichlid fish Pundamilia. Aggression was investigated in mixed-color and single-color assemblages. We found that aggression was indeed biased toward males of the same color, which could in theory reduce aggression levels in mixed-color assemblages and promote coexistence. However, previous studies showed high aggression levels in red and dominance of red over blue males in dyadic interactions, which could hinder coexistence. We found that coexistence in mixed-color assemblages reduced the level of aggression in red males but not in blue males. Red and blue males were equally dominant in mixed-color assemblages, suggesting that predictions derived from dyadic interactions may not be valid for an assemblage situation. The results are consistent with field data: the geographic range of red is nested within that of blue, suggesting that red cannot displace blue. Our study suggests that male-male competition may be a significant force for maintaining phenotypic diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-144
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009


  • Cichlid fish
  • Color polymorphism
  • Lake Victoria
  • Male-male competition
  • Sexual selection


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