Genetics of male nuptial colour divergence between sympatric sister species of a Lake Victoria cichlid fish

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The hypothesis of sympatric speciation by sexual selection has been contentious. Several recent theoretical models of sympatric speciation by disruptive sexual selection were tailored to apply to African cichlids. Most of this work concludes that the genetic architecture of female preference and male trait is a key determinant of the likelihood of disruptive sexual selection to result in speciation. We investigated the genetic architecture controlling male nuptial colouration in a sympatric sibling species pair of cichlid fish from Lake Victoria, which differ conspicuously in male colouration and female mating preferences for these. We estimated that the difference between the species in male nuptial red colouration is controlled by a minimum number of two to four genes with significant epistasis and dominance effects. Yellow colouration appears to be controlled by one gene with complete dominance. The two colours appear to be epistatically linked. Knowledge on how male colouration segregates in hybrid generations and on the number of genes controlling differences between species can help us assess whether assumptions made in simulation models of sympatric speciation by sexual selection are realistic. In the particular case of the two sister species that we studied a small number of genes causing major differences in male colouration may have facilitated the divergence in male colouration associated with speciation.

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