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Free Content Differentiation of morphology, genetics and electric signals in a region of sympatry between sister species of African electric fish (Mormyridae)

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Mormyrid fishes produce and sense weak electric organ discharges (EODs) for object detection and communication, and they have been increasingly recognized as useful model organisms for studying signal evolution and speciation. EOD waveform variation can provide important clues to sympatric species boundaries between otherwise similar or morphologically cryptic forms. Endemic to the watersheds of Gabon (Central Africa), Ivindomyrus marchei and Ivindomyrus opdenboschi are morphologically similar to one another. Using morphometric, electrophysiological and molecular characters [cytochrome b sequences and amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) genotypes], we investigated to what extent these nominal mormyrid species have diverged into biological species. Our sampling covered the known distribution of each species with a focus on the Ivindo River, where the two taxa co-occur. An overall pattern of congruence among datasets suggests that I. opdenboschi and I. marchei are mostly distinct. Electric signal analysis showed that EODs of I. opdenboschi tend to have a smaller initial head-positive peak than those of I. marchei, and they often possess a small third waveform peak that is typically absent in EODs of I. marchei. Analysis of sympatric I. opdenboschi and I. marchei populations revealed slight, but significant, genetic partitioning between populations based on AFLP data (FST ≈ 0.04). Taken separately, however, none of the characters we evaluated allowed us to discriminate two completely distinct or monophyletic groups. Lack of robust separation on the basis of any single character set may be a consequence of incomplete lineage sorting due to recent ancestry and/or introgressive hybridization. Incongruence between genetic datasets in one individual, which exhibited a mitochondrial haplotype characteristic of I. marchei but nevertheless fell within a genetic cluster of I. opdenboschi based on AFLP genotypes, suggests that a low level of recent hybridization may also be contributing to patterns of character variation in sympatry. Nevertheless, despite less than perfect separability based on any one dataset and inconclusive evidence for complete reproductive isolation between them in the Ivindo River, we find sufficient evidence to support the existence of two distinctive species, I. opdenboschi and I. marchei, even if not ‘biological species’ in the Mayrian sense.
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Keywords: electric fish; electric organ discharge; introgression; reproductive isolation; speciation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-07-01

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