Muscle fatty acids as indicators of niche and habitat in Malawian cichlids

Kuusipalo, Liisa, Reijo Käkelä

Limnol. Oceanogr., 45(4), 2000, 996-1000 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2000.45.4.0996

ABSTRACT: Fatty acid composition in the muscle of eight endemic haplochromine cichlids and one tilapiine cichlid from Lake Malawi was studied by gas-liquid chromatography. The species studied represent a wide variety of niches: Algae combing, shell crushing, feeding on littoral and semipelagic zooplankton, detecting invertebrates hidden in the sediment using expanded lateral line canals, and fish predation in littoral and bathypelagic zones. The sampling was done during the early rainy season. The analysis of fatty acid composition suggests that, despite the reported plasticity in feeding, the niches of the species studied are established and stable. The proportion of eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) in relation to arachidonic acid (20:4n-6) illustrated the position of these species in the foodweb: equal proportions in algae feeders and clear 20: 4n-6 dominance in species feeding on benthic prey. Although the number of replicates was small, discriminant analysis with 31 fatty acids separated the specimens into dense centers according to species. These results encourage the use of chemometric methods for studying ecological relationships among freshwater fauna and ongoing evolutionary processes.

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