Lake Malawi is a large, beautiful African Rift Valley lake, bordered by Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique. Its biodiversity is simply extraordinary by any standard – it has the greatest wealth of fish species of all the lakes in the world. The vast majority of this ichthyofauna belongs to just one family, the Cichlidae, and most of the cichlid species are endemic to the lake. These fishes are of major economic importance as an important source of protein for the riparian people. They are also of great value as research subjects in a wide array of biological disciplines and are currently at the forefront of evolutionary research. Many of these cichlids, especially the mbuna, enjoy considerable popularity in the specialised aquarium hobby.
Less than half of the 800 or more estimated cichlid species from Lake Malawi are described, and many of those only in superficial terms. All kinds of taxonomic problems abound at both species and genus level. This makes studying these fishes quite a challenge. Several genera or parts of genera have been revised in The Cichlid Diversity of Lake Malawi/Nyasa/Niassa; about forty new species have been described and many species reported for the first time, with each given a provisional working name. About 270 black and white or colour illustrations of these fishes have been included to facilitate their identification. The research reported in The Cichlid Diversity of Lake Malawi/Nyasa/Niassa was carried out as part of the GEF/SADC Lake Malawi/Nyasa Biodiversity Conservation Project in Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique, financed by grants from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and with the support of the UK Department For International Development (DFID). Its results are based on the data collected during the two years of the first ever lake-wide survey programme.
All of the chapters except one were written by members of the systematics team stationed at Senga Bay, Malawi: Jackie Chisambo, Thomas Nyasulu and Rhoda Walapa from Malawi, Ben Ngatunga from Tanzania, Joao Manuel from Mozambique, Mark Hanssens and Jos Snoeks from Belgium. A valuable additional contribution was made by the team of the Ncheni project coordinated by George Turner (UK). Dave Voorvelt, the GEF/SADC project's artist, has added a lot of extra scientific value to The Cichlid Diversity of Lake Malawi/Nyasa/Niassa through his beautiful and accurate colour illustrations of Malawi fishes.
Jos Snoeks is curator of fishes at the Zoology Department of the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium.