Ecology and Taxonomy of Fishes of Nicaraguan Freshwaters



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Sustainable Development and Wild Nature Conservation in NICARAGUA

Conservation Science Research


Aquatic biodiversity and biology in Nicaragua is a rich field which continues to be understudied. Nicaragua's prominent Great Lakes and volcanic lakes host a great diversity in fishes. The first important publication of the biogeography of fishes of the volcanic crater lakes from our group at GAIA was based largely on the master's thesis of University of Maryland student and Nicaraguan scientist, Roxana Waid. It listed many new site records throughout the eight Nicaraguan crater lakes known to have fishes. Laguna de Xiloá, in the Chiltepe Peninsula north of Managua, is habitat to numerous cichlid fishes (members of the family Cichlidae). Its clear, warm waters facilitate direct observation of the fishes during scuba diving. A long-term population and reproduction ecology monitoring project has been conducted to determine the reproductive patterns of the fishes of the lake. Likewise, monitoring of the fishes of Laguna de Apoyo, with a far smaller number of fish species present in a much larger and deepter lake, has been conducted by GAIA. The longitudinal studies of these two lakes has given us ample information to justify the official descriptions of several new species in a complex known as the Midas cichlid.

An important product of our biodiversity, biology and ecology research at GAIA is the development of morphometric, behavioral, and genetic tools that aid in distinguishing distinct species according to the biological species concept among this group. To date, our research group, including collaborations from The Pennsylvania State University, University of Maryland, Virginia Tech, Ludwig Maximillian University, University of Central America, and GAIA has discovered three species in Laguna de Xiloá and five species in Laguna de Apoyo. We are also working currently on new species descriptions from other parts of Nicaragua, while we continue to monitor the fishes of Laguna de Apoyo. We have also worked on phylogenetic aspects of the Midas cichlid species complex populations throughout its range from the San Juan River, Lake Cocibolca and Lake Xolotlán, tributaries and the associated volcanic crater lakes.

Relevant publications involving GAIA research:

Geiger MF, McCrary JK, Schliewen UK (2013): Crater lake Apoyo revisted - Population genetics of an emerging species flock. PLOSone 8(9): e74901. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0074901

Lehtonen TK, McCrary JK, Meyer A (2012): Introduced Predator Elicits Deficient Brood Defence Behaviour in a Crater Lake Fish. PLoS ONE 7(1): e30064. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030064

Waid RM, Raesly RL, McKaye KR, McCrary JK (1999): Zoogeografía íctica de lagunas cratéricas de Nicaragua. en Nicaragua, Encuentro 51:65-80.

Lehtonen TK, McCrary JK, Meyer A (2010): Territorial aggression can be sensitive to the status of heterospecific intruders. Behavioural processes, 84(2):598-601.

Geiger MF, McCrary JK, Stauffer Jr. JR (2010): Description of two new species of the Midas cichlid complex (Teleostei: Cichlidae) from Lake Apoyo, Nicaragua. PROCEEDINGS OF THE BIOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF WASHINGTON 123(2):159–173.

Stauffer JR, Jr., McCrary JK, Black KE (2008): Three new species of cichlid fishes (Teleostei: Cichlidae) from Lake Apoyo, Nicaragua. PROCEEDINGS OF THE BIOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF WASHINGTON 121(1):117–129.

McCrary JK, López LJ (2008): El monitoreo de las mojarras (Amphilophus spp.) en Nicaragua con aportes sobre su ecología y estado de conservación en la Laguna de Apoyo. Revista Nicaraguense de la Biodiversidad y las Areas Protegidas 1:43-50.

McCrary JK, van den Berghe EP, McKaye KR, López Pérez LJ (2001): Tilapia cultivation: A threat to native fish species in Nicaragua. Encuentro 58:9-19.

McCrary JK, Murphy BR, Stauffer Jr, JR, Hendrix SS (2007): Tilapia (Teleostei: Cichlidae) status in Nicaraguan natural waters. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 78(2), 107-114.

McKaye KR, Stauffer Jr. JR, van den Berghe EP, Vivas R, Pérez L, McCrary JK, Waid R, Konings A, Lee W-J, Kocher TD (2002): Behavioral, morphological and genetic evidence of divergence of the Midas cichlid species complex in two Nicaraguan crater lakes. Cuadernos de Investigación de la UCA 12:19-47.

Canonico GC, Arthington A, McCrary JK, Thieme ML (2005): The effects of introduced tilapias on native biodiversity. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 15:463-483.

Stauffer Jr. JR, McKaye KR (2002): Descriptions of Three New Species of Cichlid Fishes (Teleostei: Cichlidae) from Lake Xiloá, Nicaragua. Cuadernos de Investigación de la UCA 12:1-18.

McCrary JK, Madsen H, González L, Luna I, López LJ (2008): Comparison of gastropod mollusc (Apogastropoda: Hydrobiidae) habitats in two crater lakes in Nicaragua. Rev. Biol. Trop. (Int. J. Trop. Biol. ISSN-0034-7744) 56 (1): 113-120.

Oldfield RG (2007): The effects of social interaction on sex determination in Midas cichlids. Poster U. Michigan.


Mandrekar K, Oldfield RG, Bronstein P (2007): Chemical cues, 3-D structure, and social experience in contests between similarly sized juvenile black Midas cichlids, Amphilophus sp. ‘short’. Poster, University of Michigan.

Oldfield RG, McCrary JK, McKaye KR (2006): Habitat Use, Social Behavior, and Female and Male Size Distributions of Juvenile Midas Cichlids, Amphilophus cf. citrinellus, in Lake Apoyo, Nicaragua. Caribbean Journal of Science 42 (2):197-207.

McCrary JK, Castro M, McKaye KR (2006): Mercury in fish from two Nicaraguan lakes: A recommendation for increased monitoring of fish for international commerce. Environmental Pollution 141:513-518.

McCrary JK, Konings A, McKaye KR (2002): Le complexe Amphilophus 'citrinellus' dans la lagune de Xilo´, Nicaragua. l'an Cichlidé 2:37-40.

van den Berghe E, López Pérez L, McKaye KR, McCrary JK (1999): El comportamiento y la reproducción del guapote lagunero (Cichlasoma dovii). Encuentro 51:44-50.

McKaye KR, Stauffer Jr. JR, McCrary JK (2001): The Midas cichlid species complex of Nicaragua: Evidence for sympatric speciation? Cichlid News April:28-34.

McCrary JK, van den Berghe EP, McKaye KR (2005): A Breeding Population of Theraps underwoodi (Teleostei: Cichlidae) on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, and Implications for its Dispersal Mechanisms. Caribbean Journal of Science 41(4):874-876.

Paíz-Medina L, Huete-Pérez JA (2013): Filogenética Molecular de Peces del Complejo Midas Cichlidae que habitan lagos y lagunas de Nicaragua, utilizando el gen COI. Encuentro 93:101-106.

Paíz-Medina L, Huete-Pérez JA (2008): DNA Barcode, una alternativa para identificar especies del Complejo Midas Cichlidae en Nicaragua. Encuentro 81:99-111.

González-Solís D, Jiménez-García MI (2006): Parasitic Nematodes of Freshwater Fishes from Two Nicaraguan Crater Lakes. Comparative Parasitology 73:188-192

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Midas cichlid

Midas cichlid fish Midas cichlid


Amphilophus chancho, one of the fish species endemic to Laguna de Apoyo, discovered by scientists working in a GAIA project. This species is easily seen while diving in Laguna de Apoyo. Photo Ad Konings.


Midas cichlid

Jay R. Stauffer, Jr., and Jeffrey McCrary in a presentation at the auditorium of Volcano Masaya National Park. GAIA and The Pennsylvania State University are conducting studies of the fishes of Laguna de Masaya. Photo Pablo Somarriba.



Lake Nicaragua, known from the precolombian times as Cocibolca, is inhabited by many fish species. Photo Lawrence Kent.



The Midas cichlid species complex in Laguna de Apoyo consists of six known species, five of which were discovered in scientific collaborations with GAIA. The fishes of Laguna de Apoyo can be observed during SCUBA diving, facilitating several kinds of in situ behavioral research. Photo Balasz Lerner.



GAIA conducts fish biodiversity assessments throughout Nicaragua. Photo Belén Camino.



Scientific SCUBA diving in Laguna de Apoyo. The Gaia Program provides logistical and scientific support for studies of ecosystems such as freshwater lakes and rivers, and tropical forests. We arrange, coordinate, and support internships and scientific partnerships throughout Nicaragua. Photo Topi Lehtonen.