Dr. Alex Jordan interview

Dr. Alex Jordan on Lake Tanganyika. Photo by Jakob Guebel.

If you follow the blog, you know I have interviewed all kinds of cichlid enthusiasts, from business people to scientists to hobbyists. Because I have a fondness for Lake Tanganyika cichlids, it’s always a treat when I get to interview someone who’s dived the lake and can provide first-hand knowledge of some of the lake’s species.

Today’s interviewee is no stranger to the lake nor a stranger to cichlids. As a youngster, he grew up with fish, and early on experienced the joy of keeping several lamprologines. As it turns out, he was once also very active in the New South Wales Cichlid Society, where he entered some of his fish in breeding competitions. Researching animal behavior, especially cichlids, is what he now does for a living.

Dr. Alex Jordan is a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz, Germany. In his lab, appropriately called The Jordan Lab, he and his team study various aspects of social behavior, including how animals utilize social behavioral cues and the impact the natural environment has on such cues. His numerous research excursions to Lake Tanganyika alone make him quite the expert on the lake’s endemic cichlid species.

I discovered Dr. Jordan’s work one evening when reading one of his research papers. I was fascinated because it involved a study of Lake Tanganyika shell dwellers. I contacted him and asked him if he would be interested in doing an interview for the blog. He was quite happy to do so. The rest, as they say, is history. Let’s get going!

Long before you became a scientist, you were a cichlid hobbyist. Talk about a couple of your favorite species and why they were, are your favorites.

I started out like most kids, I guess, with a community tank. I think I had some gouramis in there and probably had neon tetras and whatever else. But my favorite fish at that point was an Epalzeorhynchos bicolor, a red tail shark. And I LOVED that fish. I had it for years and years until I had to move. At that point, I gave it to another hobbyist friend, and then years later actually, I was able to get the fish back.

But it wasn’t long in my fish keeping career that I went into a local fish shop. It was called St. George Aquariums, and I talked to a guy and he said, “If you want to really have a fish tank, you got to have cichlids.” I was an impressionable youth and I believed him. So, I got my first cichlid tank. I think I got Malawi. I did. I got Malawians at that point. I think I got like Cytocara moori, a Melanochromis auratus. I don’t know what the names of these Malawians are anymore because I don’t work so closely with them. But the standard sort of mbuna stuff, and then I found my true love sometime later, which was of course the Tanganyikans.

It seems to be a bit of a transition that I notice a lot of people start with the community tank, go to Malawians, and then go to Tanganyikans. And my favorite of the Tanganyikans? It’s a hard question to answer. Early on, I fell in love with Altolamprologus calvus, a pretty hard species to breed, I guess. But anyway, I was breeding it in the New South Wales Cichlid Society competitions, and that was super fun. I did have then, and still have, a very soft spot for Cyprichromis species, Paracyprichromis as well. And then I suppose Callochromis pleurospilus was also one of my super favorites and still is one of my super favorite species to keep in the aquarium. Actually, the list just keeps going – another favorite is Neolamprologus buescheri, which is super rare and found quite deep in the lake, and I’ve loved having that in my tanks and seeing it in the wild. It’s also a fun one since Heinz Buescher, for whom the species is named, is a friend. But in all, I think for me, the main interest of a species is, well it’s pretty obvious, since I study animal behavior, but how it acts in the aquarium, not so much how colorful it is.

That’s what I do as a job, and it’s those animals that have interesting behavioral patterns. So, something like a calvus that you don’t see all the time in a tank is fascinating to me because when you do see it, it’s all the more interesting to notice what it’s doing. And then when you do get those more reclusive species to start to show courtship behavior and territorial behavior, those sorts of things for me, it’s really very, very rewarding. I used to have a lot of trouble with my girlfriend at the time, because I would have all these display tanks with hardly any fish in them – she would always poke fun telling me I kept invisible fish, and yeah, I suppose if you have a tank with A. calvus and Paracyprichromis nigripinnis, you might not be seeing them so often!

Altolamprologus fasciatus. Photo by Alex Jordan.

Much of your work involves observing research subjects in their natural environment. Specifically, you often travel to Lake Tanganyika to do your research. Have you ever done any research that compares your lake cichlid observations with tank housed conspecifics? Can you elaborate?

Yeah. Actually, this is a major question and problem, in a sense, that we have as scientists studying these animals. I would love it if I could do everything in the lake. But for practical reasons, that’s not always possible. And it also provides a barrier. There are some students that I have that love the animals and want to work with them. But for various reasons, can’t/don’t have the time or have other barriers to getting to Lake Tanganyika. So, we try to do both.

The main thing we find is that the social interactions and the social behavior of cichlids in tanks is very different to what it is in the wild. This is not published work, but we’ll soon have a paper out where we specifically asked about the difference in social network structure, between captive groups of Neolamprologus multifaciatus and wild groups of multis that had the same demographic structure, which is to say that the group sizes were the same, and most other things about the group were identical.

The main finding is that the environment in Lake Tanganyika has tons and tons of predators. It’s a very dangerous place just above the group of prey fish, whether they’re multis or Xenotilapia or whatever, there are predators. There’s Lepidiolamprologus elongatus. Sometimes there’s profundicola. You might come across Boulengerochromis microlepis. It’s a very dangerous place, and the social groups respond to that by sticking close together. There’s a lot of nearby aggressive interactions and displays, and so also strong social hierarchies, whereas in the lab, that same group will take up a much larger area. The spatial arrangements are different. The social hierarchy can be quite different because they can move further away from one another.

If you give them a risky environment by putting in the cues of a predator, so they might smell a predator for instance, or not even a predator, but a larger fish. Let’s say you look at your Lepidiolamprologus attenuatus. Then you will, for a brief period, get the group acting like they do in the wild. Now they’ll soon realize, at least in our experiments, that actually there is no real danger because, ethically, we can’t keep predators with prey. Although you can in hobbyist tanks, we can’t do that scientifically. So, they realized that they’re not actually in danger, and then their behavior goes back to being very different from the wild.

And so basically, I would say the landscape of fear – this is a concept we have in ecology of what animals perceive about the world and how dangerous the world is – really changes the way they behave, and natural behavior is actually much more about being careful and avoiding predation than we would see in captivity. People think captivity is bad and, indeed in a lot of ways, it can be. Certainly, I think most fish keepers are striving to keep their animals as happy and healthy and as close to nature as they can. But one of the things about captivity is the animals are much safer, and they understand that at some level they behave differently. One of those differences is that their social structures are not the same as they are in the Lake.

One of the cichlid species you use as a model in your research is Astatotilapia burtoni, commonly called Burton’s mouthbrooder. You had an article published last year in Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences that suggests sub-dominant Astatotilapia burtoni, in certain contexts, carry more influence with respect to social behavior. Can you talk a little about this?

Sure. This really started from my observations over many years. I hate to think how many years now, 30 years almost of keeping cichlids at home, and my tank on my desks and my wherever – a bedroom, garage, toilets, everything – and noticing that in captivity, not just in captivity, but you will get in cichlids, very strong dominant structures where there is a very aggressive or a few very aggressive individuals. And it seems to be bad for the group effectively. The dominant individual takes more food, takes more space. And often the others are not able to do the things they would otherwise naturally do. And it made me start to wonder, if you were interested in group function in having groups that are optimally organized to perform a task, is the presence of dominant individuals a good thing or a bad thing for the group.

You know, dominance can be thought of as leadership. It’s good to have leaders, but dominance can also be a very negative trait if that dominance is associated with aggression, or what we call aversive behaviors. And in burtoni clearly that’s the case. Burtoni males, like most haplochromines, are incredibly aggressive and chase, not just the other males, not just the subordinate males, but also females, around the tank.

What we found is that if you teach these dominant or subordinate males a task, you can teach them to learn a specific-colored light will be associated with a food reward. You can teach them a lot of other things, but that’s what we taught them. And then you ask, if you put those individuals that now know this association into a new group, what’s the effect on the group? How well does the group learn? And we found that actually when it’s subordinate males, non-colored not so aggressive males that know the association, the group learns much, much faster from them. And that’s to do with the way that they interact with the group. The subordinate males are part of the group, they’re nearby the group, and the group seems to pay attention to them. Whereas dominant males are not part of the group. They chase away others or individuals. The other individuals are scared of them. And so, they are effectively very poor leaders in the sense of the group learning from them. They are leaders insofar as they control where the group goes by chasing them. But that’s kind of leading from the back. It’s leading by pushing others away rather than by others voluntarily following you. So, in a sense, we found out that dominance, if you measure it by aggression, sure, these colorful males are the dominant ones, but if you measure it by influence, actually it’s the subordinate individuals that are most influential.

Astatotilapia burtoni males. Dominant male on the left, subdominant on the right. Photo by Paul Nuehrenberg.

That work was conducted on captive specimens. How do you believe the results from that study might differ from Burton’s mouthbrooders in the wild?

Ah, good question. Because I was also interested in that, obviously much of my work compares wild behavior to captive behavior. And so when was that? 2019? Could have been, I can’t remember anymore with coronavirus. Anyway, the last time I was at Lake Tanganyika, (it was 2019) I went snorkeling to observe burtoni in the wild, and you snorkel because they live in very shallow water. They also live predominantly in river outlets.

So, in the tall grasses, around river mouths, that they’re almost never, I’ve never observed them deeper than a few meters.  Maybe others have, but certainly you don’t come across them typically, unless you’re snorkeling. Now the problem with that is that that’s also where the crocodiles are. In Lake Tanganyika, crocodiles are everywhere. But they are, especially in places of tall grass around rivers, which is the same place that burtoni are. So yeah, burtoni are actually one of these species that’s really terrible in that sense, because it’s kind of, I won’t say impossible, because you know I did see burtoni. But to do proper behavioral experiments and studies on them in the wild is difficult because of the tall grass. So, you can’t really see them very well. But it’s also very dangerous, and I was terrified actually, swimming around with my bum hanging out of the water, ready for a crocodile to bite me.

A shoreline of Lake Tanganyika. Photo by Alex Jordan.

The short answer is, I don’t know. What I do know is that subordinate males and females don’t swim around with dominant males. Dominant males go to the bottom and make their nests. And they’re not really in contact with the rest of the group in the same way that they are in the lab or in a tank. So, I think that’s a major difference. But that’s actually one of the reasons why I personally switched away from burtoni. Even though it’s a very, still, common species used in the lab and many of my friends use it in their labs and, and actually I do have, Bujumbura burtoni in my lab. I still do use them, but they’re a hard species to work with in the field, let’s say.

In a general sense, can you describe for hobbyists how behaviors of Lake Tanganyikan cichlids in their tanks might differ from behaviors of the same species in the lake?

In a general sense, it’s similar to my previous answer, which is that in the Lake, they have a lot more risk and so the behaviors are less frequent and they’re less pronounced. So, we have a behavior that we call mouth fighting. I’m sure most hobbyists have seen it in a very escalated fight. They’ll grab…two individuals will grab each other by the mouth and then spin around and wrestle, also called a mouth wrestle. And you almost never see that in the field. Almost never. And if you do, it’s very likely that they’ll be attacked by a predator.

Male Callochromis melanostigma guarding bowers in Lake Tanganyika. Photo by Alex Jordan.

So as one example, I saw…I took a video actually, of Cyprichromis coloratus. So, I think it’s coloratus. I think that’s still the name. I knew it as leptosoma, but it’s a larger variant. So recently it has been described as coloratus. Two males were displaying to each other, not a mouth fight but they were displaying and biting each other, and they were attacked by Perissodus microlepis, the scale eating cichlid. And it was the first video ever taken of a Perissodus attack in the wild. And that was important because they have this interesting lateralization when they feed. But that kind of thing is very common where, if they do that or two multis might start to mouth wrestle, mouth fight, then elongatus will come and try and eat them, or an eel or some other predator.

And so basically everything is a bit more on edge in the wild. And you see behaviors that are lower frequency. You still see them, and you know you can still do great work there, but everything’s a bit more “careful” let’s say. The other thing of course is just the sheer number of different species that are around.

So, let’s say again, for now let’s talk about maybe an ocellatus. So, ocellatus have these big territories on the sandy bottom with shells spaced here and there, and they’ll be living their life and feeding and interacting with one another, but almost every minute or so there’ll be some cunningtoni or Xenotilapia sima or maybe some Lamprologus callipterus or Lepidiolamprologus meeli coming through and disturbing them, attacking them, foraging in their territory. And so basically the whole system is in constant sort of flux with tons of different animals, tons of different species, different predators, different, massive groups of Petrochromis coming through.

So, everything’s a bit different because there’s so much more going on. I suppose out of necessity I do it, and hobbyists keep only a few species together. But that’s really not true in many places in the Lake. I would say there’s a lot of behavioral differences, but they’re driven by the species interactions that you see. I would also say that they spend a lot more time feeding because their food is less nutritious. They’re looking for food on the substrate. They’re looking for food in the water column. Whereas in a tank they might get fed once, twice, who knows three times a day very highly nutritious food. And then they don’t really spend so much time looking for food in between those times.

In 2017, I interviewed another cichlid researcher, Dr. Karen Maruska from Louisiana State University, whose research focuses on how the brain controls social behaviors such as reproduction and aggression. I asked her the following: “Can you comment on the potential short-term and long-term effects of man-made, perpetual noise on captive fish?” I would like to pose the same question to you.

Well, of course fish do hear. And it might even be Karen’s work, let me think. No, it’s not. So, there’s some recent work, or maybe it is Karen. Anyway, some recent work where they manipulated the mechano-sensory perception – which is the lateral line, which is the way (it’s not hearing, but it’s not too different) – of fish and of burtoni, I think. I’d have to look it up. But anyway, what they found was that they couldn’t resolve their conflicts as easily. This is just to say that using these sensory modalities….

Fieldwork at Lake Tanganyika by members of the Jordan team. Photo by Alex Jordan.

It’s very challenging to know the answer to that question because we don’t have controls where we have captive animals that are not experiencing the sound of a filter or the sound of an air bubbler or whatever other sound they might be experiencing. But we are about to embark on a whole PhD project (I’ve got a new student) on sleep cycles of cichlids, how they sleep, whether they sleep all together, whether they wake up periodically like many other species we know. And for that, we will have to keep them in completely isolated conditions where they’re not experiencing external stimuli that could give them a sense what time of day it is. That will involve us creating basically silent aquaria. So, I would have more answers then.

Then one thing I will say is that in the lake, it’s quite noisy. Lake Tanganyika is of course remote and doesn’t have too many people around it, away from the cities at least, but it is still there – boat noises – and one kind of cool and scary thing is that you can sometimes, very rarely, hear earthquakes because it’s a seismically active area. You can hear this terrifying rumbling of little earthquakes when you’re under the water. And it’s very, very loud, and the fish certainly respond to those kinds of things. They also respond to our scuba bubbles. So, the fish are hearing and they are afraid, but whether and how that correlates to chronic exposure, I am afraid I can’t say.

Lepidiolamprologus attenuatus in Lake Tanganyika. Photo by Alex Jordan.

Some of your more recent research revolves around the diminutive shell dwelling cichlid Neolamprologus multifasciatus, or multis as they’re affectionately called in the hobby. Using this species, you examined social aggression behaviors with respect to competition for resources, specifically shelter and space. Can you describe what you discovered?

So, the question is about competition for resources, shelter, and space. We have a paper that’s just been provisionally accepted (It’s going to come out pretty soon) asking about group dynamics. Basically, the question is you have a group and another individual tries to join that group. This is a common thing. Of course, in the aquarium hobby, we go to the fish shop and we buy a couple more of our favorite species to add. And we find that the existing ones don’t let them in the group or they attack them and they drive them away.

We wanted to ask about why that happens and what are the kinds of costs and benefits of new individuals joining the groups. Effectively the setup is, if you’re in a group, you’re probably sharing resources and you don’t want others to join the group, because then you have to share more. Whereas if you’re not in a group, if you’re alone, you gain everything by joining the group. You gain resources, you gain protection, you gain all these things. So, there’s conflict. The group members don’t want you to join, but you as an individual do want to join. I was interested in this sort of more fine, interesting details about that.

What we did is have in the wild groups of multis, we gave them more shells, which is the resource they use, or we took away some of their shells of a group. And then we tried to introduce a new individual. And my prediction was that when you took away shells, they should be resistant. Like they would not want individuals to join, but if you gave them shells, then maybe they’d be more permissive because they have more stuff. It’s not such a cost to share it anymore.

So, actually it had nothing to do with that. They didn’t seem to care about how many shells they had in a group. The aggression was all about sex and space. So, male multis didn’t want other male multis to join. There were very aggressive. Female multis didn’t want female multis to join. They were very aggressive to the females. Boy multis DID want girl multis to join. And so if a female multi tried to join and the other females in the territory attacked it, the male in the territory would attack his own females to stop them attacking the new female. When we introduced the male, the female multis would never attack that male. It also had to do with where you placed them. And this is pretty obvious. If you try and put a new fish near the territory of another, it’s going to be very aggressive towards it, but if it’s far away, then not.

Basically, the story was that it’s a very complex setup where the group is not really in consensus. The group is not acting as a group. It’s individuals within the group acting for their own interests. So, girls want more boys, boys want more girls, no one wants anyone near them, but they are quite happy if someone’s going somewhere else in the territory. No one seems to care about the overall amount of resources that they have. It’s quite an interesting story about the specifics of what looks from the outside to be a group, but it’s actually just a collection of selfish little cichlids.

Shell dwelling cichlids are a big favorite of mine, along with the Julidochromis lamprologines, both of which are immensely popular in the hobby. You published a paper recently advocating that Lake Tanganyikan shell dwellers are a great model for social behavior research. Can you talk a little about some things you believe hobbyists might often get wrong about the social behaviors of these wonderful little fish?

We have a paper coming out very soon. It’s open access, so people should be able to download it – https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s10750-020-04473-x.pdf. They can also check my website. If anyone wants any of my papers, I’m always happy to share them, as well as our 3d printed shell models and all that stuff. I’m very much a hobbyist at heart. So, I want hobbyists to have access to all of the stuff we find out. So, if you ever can’t get a paper of mine, just email me and I’d be happy to send it to you.

Anyway, one of these papers is basically saying that shell dwelling lamprologines are the best system of all, of any biological system, to study the evolution of social behavior, because you have anywhere between 10 and 15 species, depending on how you count, that live almost identically.

They’re small. They live in shells. They eat pretty much the same things. The same things eat them. They live in these overlapping communities in the same exact places in the lake. They look pretty similar.

Basically, they’re kind of cut and paste versions of each other, but they live in very different social organizations. So, Neolamprologus multifaciatus lives in these big social groups, whereas ‘Lamprologus’ ornatipinnis will live a very solitary life. It comes together to breed, and maybe they form pairs for some periods of time, but, but they don’t interact very much. And then you have all the things in the middle, the ‘Lamprologus’ brevis, ‘Lamprologus’ ocellatus, Telmatochromis temporalis, of course, some of the Julidochromis. You’ve got all this cool variation in social behavior. But there is minimal variation in the other confounding factors that could contribute to behavioral differences. We know that all the behavioral differences they have are likely to do with the different social ways they live. If we take a purely wild perspective of it, an ocellatus is not equipped to live in a group of 10 individuals in a tank, but that’s not entirely true. Because over the course of growing up like that, or a few generations in captivity, they can start to live in larger groups. But if we take wild ocellatus and we put them together in the Lake in a small area, they’ll kill each other, whereas wild multifasciatus will not. And so, at their sort of most primal level, at least then the most natural state, let’s say. Primal level is probably not right. But then natural state, you shouldn’t be having ocellatus live like a multifasciatus, but that’s actually the whole thing we’re interested in.

Neolamprologus similis pair. Photo by Alex Jordan.

What really is different? Is it something in the brain? Is it something that they learned from their parents? Is it something in the environment? I wouldn’t necessarily say that hobbyists are getting anything wrong, because these fish can live in very different ways and lots of cool ways. But what I often find is even from some of the people that I know and love and grew up reading their books, will say “This species is group living. This species is pair bonding. This species is cooperative.” That’s not true at all. It depends on where you go in the Lake. It depends on the ecology. Even over the course of their life, they can change.

Basically, the story is that that cichlids are such an amazing group of animals because they’re so smart, they’re so flexible, they have such a rich behavioral repertoire, that they can do a lot of things in the captive state. So, I wouldn’t say that any of these things are wrong or right. I would just say that in the wild, as they typically live, some of the ways we keep those same species in captivity are not the same. I’m not going to make a judgment about whether that’s wrong or right.

A couple of years ago, I did an interview with Dr. Hans Hoffman, someone you know quite well. In that interview, he talked a little about citizen science, of which I am big proponent. As a former hobbyist yourself, how can you see researchers working with cichlid hobbyists to open up more or expand existing cichlid research?

It says, “as a former hobbyist yourself.” Now, I got to be clear. I’m not a former hobbyist at all. I am an active hobbyist. I have tanks at home where I have Callochromis pleurospilus. I have Ophthalmotilapia ventralis in there. I have a cool tank of Perissodus microlepis. I have cool stuff that I don’t work on. I have calvus of course, as well as Dicrossus filamentosus in a planted tank. I have the species that aren’t part of my research program, but which I still love. I love all cichlids, but I really love these ones. So, I’m definitely still a hobbyist. I still go to the fish society meetings, the local fish society meetings, and still hang out in the fish shops on the weekend.

Male Ophthalmotilapia ventralis guarding bower in Lake Tanganyika. Photo by Alex Jordan.

I would love it if hobbyists would get in touch with me and send me their videos of cool behaviors, of interesting things they saw. I have always believed that a hobbyist that spends hours watching one species and maybe years or a lifetime working with one species – figuring out how it breeds – can teach a scientist so much more than… I mean, a scientist like me these days, I’m more like a project manager. The time that I get to sit in front of fish tanks is very little, and it’s usually at home, rather than at work on the species that I work with.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I work in the lake itself and that’s different, I have more time to be with the animals, and of course I have a lot of expertise there, but I believe it’s the hobbyists that have the greatest insight into what is happening. And then it’s just a process of translation. Like, can your observation as a hobbyist be made into something that we can scientifically make useful or valid? The answer is almost always, yes. It’s about replication. It’s about validation. I dream of continuing to work with hobbyists. I got to admit though, sometimes when I talk at hobbyists’ societies, people are very interested in like, “How do I get this fish to breed more? How do I get this fish to…” whatever “I want the blue color variant. Where is it? Is it from Mutundwe or Kapembwa?” or whatever. And some of those discussions are not of my primary interest. But when hobbyists have seen cool behaviors and can tell me about those, as new scientific ideas, oh man, that’s perfect.

One source of contention I often see among hobbyists is that tank bred cichlids have been “conditioned” to more readily adapt to water parameters, such as pH, that differ from their endemic environment. In other words, cichlids that are endemic to environments with more acidic water, but which have been generational bred in more alkaline tank water have physiologically “adapted” to survive just fine. Can you comment on that?

So, the question is about sort of physiological conditioning or adaptation. Yeah, I don’t know. I think once you bring animals into captivity, you lose sort of moral…you can no longer moralize on how they should be kept. If the animal Is not suffering, because, for instance, it’s been line bred to be tolerant to different water conditions, then I don’t think there’s a reasonable argument against that. I aim to keep my home fish and my work fish in conditions that are as close to the wild as is possible in terms of pH and water parameters where they live. We give them Neothauma shells, for example. But I don’t have a sort of ethical opposition to line breeding for more color, or line breeding for tolerance, or anything like that. Because once you bring it out of the wild, it’s no longer a wild animal. I guess basically my story is don’t put it back. That’s a big thing.

Another hot topic in hobby circles is cichlid hybridization. Many hobbyists are categorically opposed to hybrids period, including those being sold in the hobby. Others readily accept hybridization in their own tanks. Can you talk a little about cichlid hybridization in the wild and the impacts it might have, if any, on the future of the hobby?

Oh, God hybridization. Okay. Some people like it, some people hate it. I hate it. I don’t understand. No, I do understand. I guess it’s the same, you know, you’re line breeding a thing and you want to make it more colorful or give it new traits. So, it looks interesting. And so, you hybridize. I get it. I don’t like it because the Lake is amazing, and it’s got some absolutely stunning animals in it now. Of course, not everyone can go to the Lake. So maybe, yeah. I don’t know. It’s a tough question again. Once you’ve brought an animal out of the wild and it’s in a tank, it’s no longer really that same species. And I think it’s important to maintain pure breeding lines so that you know what you’re getting as a hobbyist. What I would say is this, these systems, whether it’s Lake Tanganyika like Malawi, anywhere, the Nicaraguan lakes, anywhere you find fish, anywhere you find animals, they’re very, very delicate.

They’re at a very fine balance. And one thing I have seen in the lake around certain locations that are common for collection for the hobby trade…so export locations, you will find species that shouldn’t be there. For example, you might find a Chalinochromis that’s supposed to be found 200 kilometers away. What seems to be happening is the collectors don’t want to be traveling that far to collect those species. So they bring populations closer to home for convenience. And that’s something that I find completely inexcusable. I understand why people do it. I understand that the people that do it may not understand the consequences or ramifications of it, but really, when you’re doing that, you are bringing in genetic material that will hybridize with the local populations and then you’ll lose a local variant. The resident population will now be different to what it was. And so you’ve lost something you used to have. In that sense, I think hybridization and movement of fish, is a really terrible thing to do. But if the hybrids are just in your aquarium or just in the hobby trade, and let’s say you live in America, North America, or you live in, Europe where, well, okay in North America, maybe cichlids can survive in the wild in various places, but if they’re not getting back to their original location, I don’t have any moral opposition to hybridization. I just find that there’s enough wonderful variation in the existing species and enough to learn about the existing species that we don’t need to be creating new ones.

Leave a Comment