Ancient hookups between different species may explain Lake Victoria’s stunning diversity of fish | Science

Lake Victoria is residence to a whole bunch of cichlid species, numerous in each look and conduct.


WAIMEA, HAWAII—In the shallow waters of Lake Victoria, the world’s largest tropical lake, swim some 500 species of cichlid fish with a dizzying selection of appearances, habitats, and behaviors. Genomic research have proven they arose from a number of ancestral species in simply 15,000 years, a tempo that has left researchers baffled about how a lot genetic variation may have developed so shortly. Now, in depth sequencing of cichlids from round Lake Victoria suggests a lot of it was there initially, within the cichlids’ ancestors. Ancient and more moderen dallying between cichlid species from a number of watersheds apparently led to genetically numerous hybrids that would shortly adapt to life within the lake’s many niches.

Reported final week on the Origins of Adaptive Radiation assembly right here, the work is “a tour de force, with many lines of evidence,” says Marguerite Butler, a purposeful morphologist on the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. It joins different analysis suggesting that hybridization is a powerful force in evolution. “What hybridization is doing is allowing the good stuff to be packed together,” Butler says.

Some of Lake Victoria’s cichlids nibble crops; others feed on invertebrates; huge ones feast on different fish; lake backside lovers devour detritus. Species range in size from a number of centimeters to about 30 centimeters; are available in an array of shapes, colours, and patterns; and dwell in different components of the lake. Mutations do not normally occur quick sufficient to provide such selection so shortly. “It’s been really hard to figure out what’s going on,” says Rosemary Gillespie, an evolutionary biologist on the University of California, Berkeley.

Ole Seehausen, an evolutionary biologist on the University of Bern who has studied cichlids for greater than 25 years, questioned whether or not hybridization may have generated the genetic uncooked materials. In earlier analysis, his crew collected cichlids from the rivers and lakes surrounding Lake Victoria and partly sequenced every species’s DNA to construct a household tree. Its branching sample indicated that Lake Victoria’s cichlids are carefully associated to a species from the Congo River and one from the Upper Nile River watershed, the group reported final 12 months in Nature Communications.

A detailed take a look at all their genomes urged the 2 river species hybridized with one another way back. Seehausen proposed that in a heat spell about 130,000 years in the past, water from tributaries of the Malagarasi River, itself a tributary of the Congo, quickly flowed into Lake Victoria, bringing Congo fish into contact with Upper Nile fish.

To discover the cichlids’ genetic historical past in additional element, Seehausen and postdocs Matt McGee, Joana Meier, and David Marques have now sequenced 450 complete cichlid genomes, representing many sorts of 150 species from the realm’s lakes, and from the Congo, Upper Nile, and different close by watersheds. Clues within the genomes recommend a number of episodes of mixing came about. Periods of drying have repeatedly brought about Lake Victoria to vanish, and Seehausen and his crew suggest that fish within the remaining waterways developed independently till wetter durations reunited them. This “fission-fusion-fission” course of restored genetic diversity every time.

About 15,000 years in the past, three teams of fish, themselves merchandise of the traditional hybridizations, got here collectively in Lake Victoria because it crammed once more. Their ancestry offered the “standing variation” that pure choice may decide from to assist the fish adapt to an enormous vary of niches, producing the cichlid bounty seen right now. “Hybridization may turn out to be the most powerful engine of new species and new adaptations,” Seehausen says.

“It’s mind-blowing,” says Dolph Schluter, an evolutionary biologist at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. “All the variation required for speciation is already there” within the hybrids.

Studies of different species additionally recommend standing variation can pace evolution. Biologists making an attempt to know how marine stickle-backs tailored so shortly to dwelling in freshwater have found {that a} essential gene variant was already current—in low percentages—within the fishes’ marine ancestors. At the assembly, researchers provided related tales of standing variation jump-starting diversification, for instance enabling long-winged beetles to evolve into short-winged ones on the Galápagos Islands. “I’ve never seen so many talks where you have evidence that genes are borrowed from old variation and further evolution is somehow facilitated by that,” Schluter says.

Andrew Hendry, an evolutionary biologist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, cautions colleagues to not fully dismiss new mutations in fast species diversification: “What’s not clear to me is whether [the role of ancient hybridization] is a general phenomenon,” he says.

Regardless, “The implications for conservation are blaring,” says Oliver Ryder, who heads conservation genetics efforts on the San Diego Zoo in California. Endangered species are at the moment managed as reproductively remoted items, and conservationists are reluctant to bolster populations by breeding the threatened animal with associated species or populations. Eight years in the past, nevertheless, a controversial program that mated Florida panthers with Texas cougars helped rescue the previous from extinction. Studies equivalent to Seehausen’s, says Ryder, recommend that in the long term, hybridization is necessary to preserving a species’s evolutionary potential.

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