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The hybrid cichlid... pet or problem?
by Damian B. Jones (number6)


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This sounds like a win-win for any individual as long as we conveniently overlook all the unlucky fish. Far more common than these lucky fish are those fish that get a set of unimportant or possibly detrimental characteristics. These undesirable genes need to be weeded out of a population, whether in the wild, or in a breeder's aquariums.
Population re-enforcement is the selection of individuals for the desirable "pure" genes and avoiding the undesirable "new" genes. Unfit mates are excluded from breeding by mate selection schemes such as positive assortive mating and inbreeding.

In domestic populations, the culling of unfit individuals is the breeder's responsibility as tank size does not usually allow for proper mate selection schemes. Often, this means killing many fish if the domestic bloodline isn't stable or desirable on the market. This continues until such a point has been reached where a domestic hybrid has been brought to a point where the hybrids breed 'true'. This usually means that the fish has young with a majority of desired characteristics, does not show unacceptable fertility or health issues, and the breeder has sufficient numbers to keep the domestic bloodline viable. A prime example of this feat would be the domesticated fish known as the Flowerhorn. These large attractive fish make excellent pets and if bred with another Flowerhorn, produce fry that have expected Flowerhorn characteristics.

Azure Fin Underwater Organism Fluid


Less commonly identified hybrids are the common Discus hybrids. These domestic Discus are predominantly derived from a single species, but through hybridization, selective breeding and culling, the domestic hybrid Discus come in a wide array of shapes, colors, and sizes. Currently, these hybrids are interspecific hybrids as there are two recognized species of Discus. On-going research may identify that there is no justification in separation into two species as there are many natural hybrids. Suddenly, our interspecific hybrids may be redefined as intra-specific hybrids.(4)

Cichlids, in general, do not show many serious health issues with hybridization. Cichlids are a very young family of fishes. Recent evidence points to a very rapid speciation process where certain ancestral fish rapidly evolved into the myriad of shapes and sizes we see today. Part of this rapid speciation has employed a large degree of outcrossing and inbreeding. Since cichlids outcross and inbreed much more frequently than older families of animals, cichlid speces tend to not be as genetically incompatible from one another as many other families of fish. This is why cichlids show a remarkable resistance to inbreeding depression or outcrossing (hybridization) depression.(5)

Eye Water Fin Fish Underwater


So why all the zealous animosity towards hybrids? It is far from unfounded animosity, but it does seem to be rather extreme at first glance. To understand the negative affects of hybrids within a community of cichlid enthusiasts, one has to realize what the fascination (with cichlids) is. Cichlids come in an enormous range of sizes, colors, shapes, and behaviors and there are many 'rules' regarding what fish could be housed in what aquarium and with what other fish. These rules, with some exceptions, are not too numerous to be followed. This has given rise to very large clubs, web-based forums, and publications discussing what can be housed with what, or how to breed, etc. Each cichlid, offers a particular trait that makes it desirable to certain hobbyists. Often, these cichlids with a particular trait may be hard to obtain, costly, or be difficult to maintain.

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