Lake Tanganyika is a magical place. It is the second deepest lake in the world and also the second largest lake in the world by volume. It is known as one of three great lakes of the East African Rift valley. The lake is nearly 700 km long and about 50 km wide, with nearly 2000 km of shoreline. Lake Tanganyika is shared by four countries – Tanzania in the east, Zambia in the south, Democratic Republic of Congo in the west and Burundi in the north. Members of ABEL work on the Zambian shores of the lake and we stay at a very basic lodge (no electricity or running water) known as Tanganyika Science Lodge, about 5 km from the port of Mpulungu. The lodge is run by Michael Taborsky at Bern University.
Lake Tanganyika boasts around 250 cichlid species and at least 150 other fish species that live in the shallow littoral zone. The commercial fishery in Lake Tanganyika is for the pelagic capentta, or Tanganyikan sardine, or one of the four species of Nile Perch. The brightly coloured cichlids of Lake Tanganyika are popular in the aquarium hobby but it’s the rapid speciation of the cichlids and invertebrates (many that are endemic in the lake) that make this spot such an evolutionary hotspot. This is truly Darwin’s Dreampond.
The lake is under threat for a number of reasons. First, because there are few major rivers that flow into Lake Tanganyika, combined with the high altitude and evaporation rates, means that climate change related rises in temperature could lead to a rapid fall in lake levels. Second, one million people live around the lake while another 10 million live in the basin. The fish provide protein for this population but unfortunately the fish populations are in decline, some would argue that they are crashing. Our lab is exploring how protected areas may enhance fish stocks and the impact of human activity on fish biodiversity and abundance.
Here are a few representative papers to highlight our field work in Lake Tanganyika:
Fitzpatrick, JL, Montgomerie, R, Desjardins, JK, Stiver, KA, Kolm, N, and Balshine, S, 2009. "Female promiscuity promotes the evolution of faster sperm in cichlid fishes". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(4), 1128-1132
Desjardins, JK, Stiver, KA, Fitzpatrick, JL, and Balshine, S, 2008. "Differential responses to territory intrusions in cooperatively breeding fish". Animal Behaviour, 75, 595-604
Stiver, KA, Fitzpatrick, J, Desjardins, JK, and Balshine, S, 2006. "Sex differences in rates of territory joining and inheritance in a cooperatively breeding cichlid fish". Animal Behaviour, 71, 449-456
Stiver, KA, Dierkes, P, Taborsky, M, and Balshine, S, 2004. "Dispersal patterns and status change in a co-operatively breeding cichlid Neolamprologus pulcher: evidence from microsatellite analyses and behavioural observations". Journal of Fish Biology, 65(1), 91-105