Kristina M. Sefc




Prof. Dr. Kristina M. Sefc

Institute of Zoology
University of Graz
Universitätsplatz 2
A-8010 Graz
Tel. +43 (0) 316 380-5601
Fax +43 (0) 316 380-9875


Sept. 6 - 9, 2015

Institute of Zoology, University of Graz




Publications Group members Software CV  

Evolution shapes behavior, and behavior influences the course of evolution. I am interested in how behavior and evolutionary processes interact in various contexts including reproduction, migration and dispersal, ecological specialization and territoriality.

Current research focusses on teleost fish of the familiy Cichlidae. With their remarkable phenotypic diversity and variability in social, mating and breeding behavior, these fish offer manifold opportunities to address questions in behavioral ecology and evolutionary biology. Even within a single lake (Lake Tanganyika in Africa), we find mouthbrooders and substrate breeders, uniparental, biparental and cooperative breeders, monogamous, polygynous, polyandrous and promiscuous species, as well as various alternative reproductive tactics such as piracy and sneaking, and - occasionally - adoption of foreign fry. Territorial behavior likewise varies among species, with males and/or females defending (or not) individual or joint territories used for feeding, mating and/or breeding. Ample room for selection arising from sexual and social competition!

One focus taxon, the genus Tropheus, occupies a narrow trophic niche in the rocky littoral of Lake Tanganyika, Africa. Being restricted to a particular type of habitat, species are divided into multiple separate populations along the lake shore, with little or no gene flow across even minor habitat barriers. This, in consequence, enabled the different populations to evolve specific color patterns and to produce one of the most stunning examples of intraspecific color pattern diversity.

We investigate the effects of color pattern in the contexts of sexual and social interactions within populations as well as reproductive isolation among populations. We are also interested in the proximate mechanisms behind the variation in carotenoid-based coloration, and in the role of hybridization in creating novel color variants.

In a new project, we investigate the role of social competition in the evolutionary loss of sexual dimorphism in these fishes.

Another new project addresses cuckoldry in a cichlid fish with biparental brood care and high levels of extra-pair paternity (Variabilichromis moorii). We now aim to understand why nest-holding males failed to evolve more efficient defenses against cuckoldry.


A few recent publications:
Sefc K.M., Hermann C.M., Steinwender B, Brindl H., Zimmermann H., Mattersdorfer K., Postl L., Makasa L., Sturmbauer C., Koblmüller S. 2015. Asymmetric dominance and asymmetric mate choice oppose premating isolation after allopatric divergence. Ecology and Evolution, DOI: 10.1002/ece3.1372. pdf
Odreitz U., Sefc K.M. 2015. Territorial competition and the evolutionary loss of sexual size dimorphism. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 69: 593-601. pdf
Sefc K.M., Brown A.C., Clotfelter E.D. 2014. Carotenoid-based coloration in cichlid fishes. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A, 173, 42-51. pdf
Maan M.E., Sefc K.M. 2013. Colour variation in cichlid fish: proximate mechanisms, selective pressures and evolutionary consequences. Seminars in Cell & Developmental Biology, 24, 516-528. pdf
Sefc K.M. 2011. Mating and Parental Care in Lake Tanganyika's Cichlids. International Journal of Evolutionary Biology, vol. 2011, Article ID 470875, 20 pages, 2011. doi:10.4061/2011/470875. pdf