Adaptive radiation research typically relies on the study of evolution in retrospective, leaving the predictive value of the concept hard to evaluate. Several radiations, including the cichlid fish in the East African Great Lakes, have been studied extensively, yet no study has investigated the onset of the intraspecific processes of niche expansion and differentiation shortly after colonization of an adaptive zone by cichlids. Haplochromine cichlids of one of the two lineages that seeded the Lake Victoria radiation recently arrived in Lake Chala, a lake perfectly suited for within-lake cichlid speciation. Here we infer the colonization and demographic history, quantify phenotypic, ecological and genomic diversity and diversification, and investigate the selection regime to ask if the population shows signs of diversification resembling the onset of adaptive radiation. We find that since their arrival in the lake, haplochromines have colonized a wide range of depth habitats associated with ecological and morphological expansion and the beginning of phenotypic differentiation and potentially nascent speciation, consistent with the very early onset of an adaptive radiation process. Moreover, we demonstrate evidence of rugged phenotypic fitness surfaces, indicating that current ecological selection may contribute to the phenotypic diversification.
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