The species flocks of cichlid fish in the three great East African Lakes, Victoria, Malawi, and Tanganyika, have arisen in each lake by explosive adaptive radiation. Various questions concerning their phylogeny have not yet been answered. In particular, the identity of the ancestral founder species and the monophyletic origin of the haplochromine cichlids from the East African lakes have not been established conclusively. In the present study, we used the anonymous nuclear DNA marker DXTU1 as a step towards answering these questions. A 280 bp-fragment of the DXTU1 locus was amplified by the polymerase chain reaction from East African lacustrine species, the East African riverine cichlid species Haplochromis bloyeti, H. burtoni and H. sparsidens, and other African cichlids. Sequencing revealed several indels and substitutions that were used as cladistically informative markers to support a phylogenetic tree constructed by the neighbor-joining method. The topology, although not supported by high bootstrap values, corresponds well to the geographical distribution and previous classification of the cichlids. Markers could be defined that: (i) differentiate East African from West African cichlids; (ii) distinguish the riverine and Lake Victoria/Malawi haplochromines from Lake Tanganyika cichlids; and (iii) indicate the existence of a monophyletic Lake Victoria cichlid superflock which includes haplochromines from satellite lakes and East African rivers. In order to resolve further the relationship of East African riverine and lacustrine species, mtDNA cytochrome b and control region segments were sequenced. The mtDNA-based trees support the notion of the monophyly of the Lake Victoria superflock but are ambigious with respect to the phylogenetic position of the Lake Malawi flock.
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