, Volume 843, Issue 1, pp 1–11 | Cite as

Genetic differentiation of the Malawi blue crab reflects Pleistocene desiccation of Lake Malawi (Brachyura, Potamonautidae: Potamonautes lirrangensis (Rathbun, 1904))

  • John K. Kochey
  • Savel R. Daniels
  • Cornelia Plagge
  • Soudabeh Mehrabi
  • Lukas Hartmann
  • Friedemann Schrenk
  • Martin Plath
  • Sebastian KlausEmail author


Lake Malawi is famous for the rapid speciation of cichlid fishes, but the potential diversification of its invertebrate fauna is poorly studied. Using two mitochondrial DNA sequence markers (partial ND1 and Cyt b genes), we investigated the population genetic structure of the only known species of freshwater crab inhabiting Lake Malawi (Potamonautes lirrangensis (Rathbun, 1904)). We detected little overall genetic differentiation among different sampling sites (pairwise ΦST-values = 0.00–0.13). Genetic differentiation between sampling sites was better explained by linear distances than by shoreline distances, suggesting that ‘sweepstake dispersal’ between western and eastern shores occurs. Moreover, several population genetic parameters (Tajima’s D, Fu’s FS, Fay and Wu’s H and mismatch distribution analysis) suggest a recent population expansion, and Bayesian skyline plot analysis confirmed a sudden increase of the effective population size between 70 and 30 ka. Genetic diversity decreased towards the southern, shallower part of the lake, suggesting a more recent colonization of the southern shores. This finding is in line with hypotheses on Lake Malawi’s paleogeography suggesting that the lake largely desiccated during Pleistocene East African megadroughts and re-expanded southwards only recently after ~ 70 ka.


Ancient lake Freshwater crab Intra-lacustrine diversification Dispersal Adaptive radiation 



Field work for this study was conducted in cooperation with and supported by Dr. Dylo Pemba and Dr. Zuze Dulany of Chancellor College Zomba, Malawi. The population at Cape McLear was sampled during a field school supported by the Volkswagen Foundation [Grant No. AZ 86 253]. We thank Orsolya Klára Mák, Kathrin Schleich and Elena Richter who helped acquiring the ND1 data during a practical course at the Universität Frankfurt in 2012. CP was funded by the scholarship program of the German Federal Environmental Foundation (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt, DBU); JKK is supported by a joint grant of the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology of Kenya (MOHEST) and the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, DAAD) [Grant No. 57139945]; and SK by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) [Grant No. DFG KL2378/2-1]. We thank two anonymous referees for their helpful suggestions.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology & EvolutionJ.W. Goethe-UniversitätFrankfurt am MainGermany
  2. 2.National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi National MuseumNairobiKenya
  3. 3.Department of Botany and ZoologyUniversity of StellenboschMatielandSouth Africa
  4. 4.Crustacean Section, Department of Marine ZoologySenckenberg Research Institute and Natural History MuseumFrankfurt am MainGermany
  5. 5.Department of Vertebrate PalaeobiologyJ.W. Goethe-UniversitätFrankfurt am MainGermany
  6. 6.College of Animal Science and TechnologyNorthwest A&F UniversityYanglingChina

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