The rich Levantine fauna and flora were shaped by millions of years of migration across the region, from Africa to Eurasia and vice versa. Most large-scale processes that led to this diversity have been relatively well studied. However, small-scale processes, and details such as the area of origin of particular groups, and the route and time of dispersal are often not as clear. This is the case with the endemic Levantine representatives of the fish family Cichlidae. In this work we combine genetic, palaeontological and geological data in an attempt to understand the dispersal of the cichlid fish Astatotilapia flaviijosephi (Lortet, 1883) from sub-Saharan Africa to the Levant. A. flaviijosephi is unique among the Levantine cichlids in being the only non-tilapiine. It is also the only haplochromine cichlid to be found out of Africa. A partial sequence of the control region of the mitochondrial DNA was used to determine A. flaviijosephi's phylogenetic relationships with other African haplochromines, and to estimate its time of divergence from this group. Combining our findings with palaeontological and geological data, we suggest that A. flaviijosephi separated from the other haplochromines during the middle to late Pliocene (2.5-3.3 Mya) and probably dispersed from Africa to the Levant via the Nile. (C) 2004 The Linnean Society of London.
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