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Genetic diversity within the genus <i>Cynotilapia</> and its phylogenetic position among Lake Malawi’s mbuna cichlids

D Kassam
S Seki
B Rusuwa
AJD Ambali
K Yamaoka


Cynotilapia’s unicuspid teeth, a unique character used to delineate it from all other mbuna genera, leaves evolutionary biologists wondering which is the closest relative to this genus among mbuna cichlids. This genus has only two described species out of the 10-13 species/taxa, whereby the
undescribed taxa are either known by their colouration or place where they occur. AFLP genetic marker was used to determine the phylogenetic position of Cynotilapia among the mbuna and also the genetic diversity within this genus. Nei’s genetic distance, frequency of polymorphic loci and average
heterozygosity were used to unravel the genetic diversity. The neighbour-joining (NJ) dendrogram revealed that the genus Maylandia is the closest relative to Cynotilapia. Genetic distances were higher among all pairs of undescribed taxa than between the two species (Cynotilapia afra vs. C. axelrodi). Frequency of polymorphic loci and average heterozygosity were also higher within undescribed taxa than in two species. These results, coupled with already known phenotypic differences among these
taxa (including colour, a crucial factor in speciation through sexual selection), do provide a strong base to taxonomists who can formally describe these taxa as species. The uncovered genetic differentiation
is very important for conservation of this endemic fish fauna.

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eISSN: 1684-5315