Feeding ecology underlies the evolution of cichlid jaw mobility

Christopher M. Martinez, Matthew D. McGee, Samuel R. Borstein, Peter C. Wainwright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The fish feeding apparatus is among the most diverse functional systems in vertebrates. While morphological and mechanical variations of feeding systems are well studied, we know far less about the diversity of the motions that they produce. We explored patterns of feeding movements in African cichlids from Lakes Malawi and Tanganyika, asking whether the degree of kinesis is associated with dietary habits of species. We used geometric morphometrics to measure feeding kinesis as trajectories of shape change, based on 326 high-speed videos in 56 species. Cranial morphology was significantly related to feeding movements, both of which were distributed along a dietary axis associated with prey evasiveness. Small-mouthed cichlids that feed by scraping algae and detritus from rocks had low kinesis strikes, while large-mouthed species that eat large, evasive prey (fishes and shrimps) generated the greatest kinesis. Despite having higher overall kinesis, comparisons of trajectory shape (linearity) revealed that cichlids that eat mobile prey also displayed more kinematically conserved, or efficient, feeding motions. Our work indicates that prey evasiveness is strongly related to the evolution of cichlid jaw mobility, suggesting that this same relationship may explain the origins and diversity of highly kinetic jaws that characterize the super-radiation of spiny-rayed fishes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1645-1655
Number of pages11
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • Cichlid
  • Diet
  • Geometric morphometrics
  • Kinematics
  • Motion trajectory

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