We examined interspecific female mating preferences in four closely related species of
cichlid belonging to the Pseudotropheus zebra species complex of Lake Malawi.
These species differ in coloration but are similar in other respects, suggesting that
male color patterns may be important to female mate choice in species recognition.
To test this hypothesis, we presented females from each species with a choice of four
males, one of her own species and three others that were each of a different species.
We also gave each female a choice between the three heterospecific males only. In all
four species, females showed a significant preference for conspecific males in the
four-way choice and chose the male with the most similar color pattern to the conspecific
male in the three-way choice. These results are discussed with reference to the theory of
sexual selection on color patterns as a means of sympatric speciation in cichlids.