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Data from: The role of rare morph advantage and conspicuousness in the stable gold-dark colour polymorphism of a crater lake Midas cichlid fish

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Torres-Dowdall, Julián; Golcher-Benavides, Jimena; Machado-Schiaffino, Gonzalo; Meyer, Axel (2018). Data from: The role of rare morph advantage and conspicuousness in the stable gold-dark colour polymorphism of a crater lake Midas cichlid fish [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. Genetically based stable colour polymorphisms provide a unique opportunity to study the evolutionary processes that preserve genetic variability in the wild. Different mechanisms are proposed to promote the stability of polymorphisms, but only few empirical examples have been documented, resulting in an incomplete understanding of these mechanisms. 2. A remarkable genetically-determined stable colour polymorphism is found in the Nicaraguan Midas cichlid species complex (Amphilophus cf. citrinellus). All Midas cichlids start their life with a dark-grey colouration (dark morph), but individuals carrying the dominant “gold” allele (~10%) lose their melanophores later in life, revealing the underlying orange colouration (gold morph). How this polymorphism is maintained remains unclear. Two main hypotheses have been proposed, both suggesting differential predation upon colour morphs as the proximate mechanism. One predicts that the conspicuous gold morph is more likely to be preyed upon, but this disadvantage is balanced by their competitive dominance over the dark morph. The second hypothesis suggests a rare morph advantage where the rarer gold morph experiences less predation. Empirical evidence for either of these mechanisms is still circumstantial and inconclusive. 3. We conducted two field experiments in a Nicaraguan crater lake using wax models simulating both morphs to determine predation pressure upon Midas cichlid colour morphs. First, we tested the interaction of colouration and depth on attack rate. Second, we tested the interaction of fish size and colouration. We contrasted the pattern of attacks from these experiments to the predicted predation patterns from the hypotheses proposed to explain the colour polymorphism’s stability. 4. Large models imitating colour morphs were attacked at similar rates irrespectively of their position in the water column. Yet, attacks upon small models resembling juveniles were directed mainly toward dark models. This resulted in a significant size-by-colour interaction. 5. We suggest that gold Midas cichlids experience a rare morph advantage as juveniles when individuals of this morph are extremely uncommon. But this effect is reduced or disappears among adults, where gold individuals are relatively more common. Thus, the interaction of rare morph advantage and conspicuousness, rather than either of those factors alone, is a likely mechanism resulting in the stability of the colour polymorphism in Midas cichlids.

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