Intrasexual competition among females and the stabilization of a conspicuous colour polymorphism in a Lake Victoria cichlid fish

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The maintenance of colour polymorphisms within populations has been a long-standing interest in evolutionary ecology. African cichlid fish contain some of the most striking known cases of this phenomenon. Intrasexual selection can be negative frequency dependent when males bias aggression towards phenotypically similar rivals, stabilizing male colour polymorphisms. We propose that where females are territorial and competitive, aggression biases in females may also promote coexistence of female morphs. We studied a polymorphic population of the cichlid fish Neochromis omnicaeruleus from Lake Victoria, in which three distinct female colour morphs coexist: one plain brown and two blotched morphs. Using simulated intruder choice tests in the laboratory, we show that wild-caught females of each morph bias aggression towards females of their own morph, suggesting that females of all three morphs may have an advantage when their morph is locally the least abundant. This mechanism may contribute to the establishment and stabilization of colour polymorphisms. Next, by crossing the morphs, we generated sisters belonging to different colour morphs. We find no sign of aggression bias in these sisters, making pleiotropy unlikely to explain the association between colour and aggression bias in wild fish, which is maintained in the face of gene flow. We conclude that female-female aggression may be one important force for stabilizing colour polymorphism in cichlid fish.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)519-526
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1634
StatePublished - Mar 7 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Female-female competition
  • Intrasexual selection
  • Lake Victoria
  • Speciation


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