Frequency-Dependent Natural Selection in the Handedness of Scale-Eating Cichlid Fish

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Science  09 Apr 1993:
Vol. 260, Issue 5105, pp. 216-219
DOI: 10.1126/science.260.5105.216


Frequency-dependent natural selection has been cited as a mechanism for maintaining polymorphisms in biological populations, although the process has not been documented conclusively in field study. Here, it is demonstrated that the direction of mouth-opening (either left-handed or right-handed) in scale-eating cichlid fish of Lake Tanganyika is determined on the basis of simple genetics and that the abundance of individuals with left- or right-handedness depends on frequency-dependent natural selection. Attacking from behind, right-handed individuals snatched scales from the prey's left flank and left-handed ones from the right flank. Within a given population, the frequency of the two phenotypes oscillated around unity. This phenomenon was effected through frequency-dependent selection exerted by the prey's alertness. Thus, individuals of the rare phenotype had more success as predators than those of the more common phenotype.