Classification and phylogenetic relationships of African tilapiine fishes inferred from mitochondrial DNA sequences

Sandra Nagl, Herbert Tichy, Werner E. Mayer, Irene E. Samonte, Brendan J. McAndrew, Jan Klein

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68 Scopus citations


African cichlid fishes are composed of two major lineages, the haplochromines and the tilapiines. Whereas the phylogenetic relationships of the haplochromines have been studied extensively, primarily because of their spectacular adaptive radiations in the Great Lakes of East Africa, little is known about the relationships among the tilapiine species, despite the fact that they have become an important component of African, indeed world, aquaculture. To remedy this situation, molecular phylogenetic analysis of tilapiine fishes was undertaken. A segment of mitochondrial DNA encompassing the terminal part of the tRNAPro gene and the most variable part of the control region was amplified by the polymerase chain reaction with DNA samples isolated from 42 tilapiine species, and the amplification products were subjected to heteroduplex analysis and sequencing. Phylogenetic trees based on 68 sequences revealed the existence of 11 sequence groups and 11 single-sequence branches. The groups, designated Ti1 through Ti11, were distinguished by specific combinations of diagnostic substitutions, formation of monophyletic clusters, and separation by genetic distances in excess of 0.04. Although the relationships among the groups could not be resolved, the sequences separated Oreochromis and Sarotherodon from Tilapia, as defined by Trewavas. The Oreochromis sequences clustered with the Sarotherodon sequences and thus supported the hypothesis that the mouthbrooding behavior of the tilapiine fishes evolved only once from the substrate-spawning behavior. Since on phylogenetic trees the O. alcalicus (sub)species were always separated from O. amphimelas by other Oreochromis species, it was concluded that the adaptation to life in water with a high salt concentration and high pH values evolved independently at least twice in the tilapiine fishes. The tilapiines diverged from the haplochromines more than 8 million years ago; most of the intragroup divergences among the tilapiines took place an estimated 1.1 to 6 million years ago.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)361-374
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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