The late Pleistocene desiccation of Lake Victoria and the origin of its endemic biota

J. C. Stager, T. C. Johnson

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Lingering debate among evolutionary biologists over whether or not Lake Victoria dried out during the late Pleistocene focuses on perceived conflicts between biological and geological evidence for the age of its endemic species. This article reviews and updates the geophysical and paleoecological evidence for lake-wide desiccation and describes the environmental conditions that aquatic species likely experienced during the low stand. Lake Victoria was at its lowest between 18,000 and 14,000 calendar years ago, and it dried out at least once during that time. There is no evidence of remnant ponds or marshes persisting within the desiccated basin. If such features existed, then they would have been small, shallow, turbid, and/or saline, and therefore markedly different from the lake to which today's species are adapted. The existence of Lake Victoria's diverse endemic biota must be reconciled with the incontrovertible geophysical and paleoecological evidence of a ca. 15,000 year age for the lake, and not vice versa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-16
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements We thank J. Day, F. Holzfoerster, R. Kendall, E. Michel, D. Ryves, S. Santini, O. Seehausen, and D. Verschuren for helpful comments and information. The U.S. National Science Foundation provided financial support for the analyses and interpretations presented here (ATM-9808972, ATM-0117170, ATM-0401845).

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Africa
  • Cichlids
  • Climate
  • Evolution
  • Lake Victoria
  • Speciation

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • LIAF


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