Evolutionary traits helped with mass extinction

Evolutionary traits

Lipochromis sp. “Matumbi hunter”. Photo by Greg Steeves

Normally evolutionary traits help species survive in their environments. Drastic changes in a species’ habitat can cause certain traits to become useless. In the case of Lake Victoria cichlids, the introduction of a new predator by humans caused the mass extinction of hundreds of species. The Nile perch is a fast growing and hungry predator quickly eliminated competition and preyed on any fish in the lake.

A new study points to certain evolutionary traits in cichlids that helped them before the introduction of the Nile perch, but quickly became a liability once this new competitor arrived. Cichlids developed jaws that allowed them to eat a variety of foods. According to the study, these same jaws were not suited to compete with the large mouth or the Nile perch. Unfortunately the publication is behind a paywall, but a summary can be found on the National Geographic website.

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