The largest African Great Lakes, Tanganyika, Malawi, and Victoria, which have the richest
lacustrine fish faunas of any of the world's lakes, provide a unique comparative series for
studies of evolutionary mechanisms, community ecology, and fish behavior. Their colorful
littoral fishes are also known to aquarists worldwide. This paper examines the origins of
their fish diversity, looking at the history of the lakes, colonization from river systems
and evolution of endemic faunas within each lake. All three lakes support fisheries of
great socioeconomic importance for the rapidly rising human populations. The paper also
examines the vulnerability of the faunas to fishing pressures and introductions of exotic
species. In Malawi and Victoria, bottom-trawling has altered the cichlid species composition.
The loss of an estimated 200 taxa of endemic cichlid species from Lake Victoria's fauna
following introductions of exotic fishes (tilapias and predatory centropomid Lates)
40 years ago, stresses the need to protect the unique fish faunas in Lakes Tanganyika and Malawi.