Newly discovered cichlid fish biodiversity threatened by hybridization with non-native species

Tabitha Blackwell, Antonia G. P. Ford, Adam G. Ciezarek, Stephanie J. Bradbeer, Carlos A. Gracida Juarez, Alan M. Smith, Benjamin P. Ngatunga, Asilatu Shechonge, Rashid Tamatamah, Graham Etherington, Wilfried Haerty, Federica Di Palma, George F. Turner, Martin J. Genner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


Invasive freshwater fishes are known to readily hybridize with indigenous congeneric species, driving loss of unique and irreplaceable genetic resources. Here we reveal that newly discovered (2013–2016) evolutionarily significant populations of Korogwe tilapia (Oreochromis korogwe) from southern Tanzania are threatened by hybridization with the larger invasive Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). We use a combination of morphology, microsatellite allele frequencies and whole genome sequences to show that O. korogwe from southern lakes (Nambawala, Rutamba and Mitupa) are distinct from geographically disjunct populations in northern Tanzania (Zigi River and Mlingano Dam). We also provide genetic evidence of O. korogwe × niloticus hybrids in three southern lakes and demonstrate heterogeneity in the extent of admixture across the genome. Finally, using the least admixed genomic regions we estimate that the northern and southern O. korogwe populations most plausibly diverged ~140,000 years ago, suggesting that the geographical separation of the northern and southern groups is not a result of a recent translocation, and instead these populations represent independent evolutionarily significant units. We conclude that these newly discovered and phenotypically unique cichlid populations are already threatened by hybridization with an invasive species, and propose that these irreplaceable genetic resources would benefit from conservation interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)895-911
Number of pages17
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number4
Early online date16 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • admixture
  • biodiversity conservation
  • cichlid fishes
  • geometric morphometrics
  • introgression
  • population genomics

Cite this