Malawi Cichlids

One of the reasons evolutionary biologists are so enchanted by the cichlid species metaflock of Lake Malawi is that, because of intense competition for food, the hundreds of species have evolved many (presumed) specializations to exploit a seemingly endless array of diets. Some species eat foods typical of “ordinary” fish communities — vascular plants; insects; small fish. But others are unusual, even unique, in the novel foods exploited, peculiar structural adaptations, bizarre feeding behavior, use of aggressive mimicry, and other features. By “adaptation”, I mean “…an anatomical, physiological, or behavioral trait that contributes to an individual’s ability to survive and reproduce (‘fitness’) in competition with conspecifics in the environment in which it evolved” (G.C. Williams, 1966. Adaptation and Natural Selection. Princeton Univ. Press).

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