Table of Contents
International Journal of Evolutionary Biology
Volume 2011 (2011), Article ID 641501, 10 pages
Research Article

Modularity of the Oral Jaws Is Linked to Repeated Changes in the Craniofacial Shape of African Cichlids

Department of Biology, Syracuse University, 107 College Place, Syracuse, NY 13244, USA

Received 16 December 2010; Accepted 14 February 2011

Academic Editor: Stephan Koblmüller

Copyright © 2011 Kevin J. Parsons et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The African cichlids of the East-African rift-lakes provide one of the most dramatic examples of adaptive radiation known. It has long been thought that functional decoupling of the oral and pharyngeal jaws in cichlids has facilitated their explosive evolution. Recent research has also shown that craniofacial evolution from radiations in lakes Victoria, Malawi, and Tanganyika has occurred along a shared primary axis of shape divergence, whereby the preorbital region of the skull changes in a manner that is, relatively independent from other head regions. We predicted that the preorbital region would comprise a variational module and used an extensive dataset from each lake that allowed us to test this prediction using a model selection approach. Our findings supported the presence of a preorbital module across all lakes, within each lake, and for Malawi, within sand and rock-dwelling clades. However, while a preorbital module was consistently present, notable differences were also observed among groups. Of particular interest, a negative association between patterns of variational modularity was observed between the sand and rock-dwelling clades, a patter consistent with character displacement. These findings provide the basis for further experimental research involving the determination of the developmental and genetic bases of these patterns of modularity.