New Paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Biting and Suction Feeding in Rift Lake Cichlids

I’m happy to announce a paper I collaborated on investigating how feeding modes effect jaw kinesis in cichlids was recently published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

In this paper we used a combination of ultra-conserved element sequencing (UCE) and high-speed video to investigate if the mode at which fish procure their food effects the evolution of jaw protrusion in Lake Malawi and Tanganyikan fishes. A distinctive feature of ray-finned fishes (which include cichlids) is that many of them are able to protrude the upper jaw when feeding. This jaw protrusion is especially useful when feeding on evasive prey items as it enhances the suction force and aides in sucking the prey into the mouth. For the most part, fish feed by two methods. Suction feeding, where prey is obtained by the method described above or biting, where prey is forcefully removed/captured by the jaws themselves (e.x. fish feeding of algae/sponged off rocks, scale eaters, mollusk shellers).

2016 Cichlid replicated divergence mirrors ver.pdf - Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

Lamprologus lemairii, a fish and crustacean predator that employs suction feeding, showing how the jaw bones protrude during feeding. The above photo shows the position of the bones before a strike while the bottom shows where the same points have moved to once prey is captured.

Our results showed that species that obtain prey via biting have much less jaw protrusion and overall movement of the cranial bones during a feeding event relative to suction feeders. This is not necessarily surprising as biting fish face certain functional demands on the jaws, like stress placed by forcible contact to extract prey, where additional jaw protrusion would be ineffective. Our results highlight  the contrasting functional demands and trade-offs both modes of feeding have and how these demands have shaped the evolution of head morphology and feeding ecology in the Malawi and Tanganyikan cichlid radiations.


A phylogeny constructed from ultra-conserved elements of 56 Malawi and Tanganyikan cichlids used in the study. Feeding mode has transitioned numerous times through the evolution of these fishes as can be seen by the different colors of the branches of the phylogeny, with biting species highlighted in warmer colors and suction feeding species by cooler colors.

Paper Citation & Link : McGee MD, Faircloth BC, Borstein SR, Zheng J, Hulsey CD, Wainwright PC, and Alfaro ME. 2016. Replicated divergence in cichlid radiations mirrors a major vertebrate innovation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 283.

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1 Response to New Paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Biting and Suction Feeding in Rift Lake Cichlids

  1. Pingback: New Paper on Cichlid Feeding Kinematic Efficiency Published in Evolution | Fish For Thought

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