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What big lips are good for: on the adaptive function of repeatedly evolved hypertrophied lips of cichlid fishes
March 5, 2015
4:10 pm
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Matt
Málaga, Spain
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Biological Journal of the Linnean Society - early view

Abstract

Linking phenotypic traits to an adaptive ecological function is a major goal of evolutionary biology. However, this task is challenging and has been accomplished in only a handful of species and ecological model systems. The repeatedly evolved adaptive radiations of cichlid fishes are composed of an enormously diverse set of species that differ in trophic morphology, body shape, coloration, and behaviour. Ecological guilds of species with conspicuously hypertrophied lips have evolved in parallel in all major cichlid radiations and are characterized by large lips and pointed and narrow heads. In the present study, we experimentally tested the adaptive significance of this set of conspicuous traits by comparing the success of hypertrophied-lipped and closely-related thin-lipped endemic Lake Victoria cichlids in a novel foraging assay. The hypertrophied-lipped species (Haplochromis chilotes) was clearly more successful in exploiting food resources from narrow crevices and the observed difference in foraging success increased more at narrower angles. Furthermore, pronounced differences in exploratory behaviour between the species suggest that the evolution of hypertrophied-lipped species involved the co-evolution of a suite of traits that include foraging behaviour. The repeated evolution of hypertrophied-lip morphology in conjunction with a narrow and pointed head shape in cichlids represents an evolutionary innovation that facilitates foraging in rocky crevices, thus allowing access to a novel niche.

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