For evolutionary biologists and fish ecologists Ole Seehausen and Jakob Brodersen, this discovery was not altogether a surprise, as the freshwater lakes of Greenland were populated only by char and stickleback following the ice age, and it was very rare for salmon or eels to swim upstream from the sea. This meant that the char had very little competition when they occupied the ecological niches in the lakes. Moreover, char in southern Greenland have genetic material from two evolutionary lines — one from the Atlantic, and one from the Arctic. This genetic diversity was perhaps what facilitated the rapid speciation and specialisation in differing ecological niches.
More niches, more specialists
Of the six char species in the Tasersuaq, the largest of the seven lakes that were the subject of the investigation, one specialises in eating insect larvae and molluscs from the lake bed close to the shore (Benthos), one is specialised for eating plankton in open water, and two for feeding on stickleback and young char; one small species lives in the deep waters of the lake, and one migrates to the sea. With all these various specialisations, the fish have a diversity of morphological adaptations to their particular ecological niche: the small, deep-water species, for example, has especially large eyes, and the long, slender body of the plankton specialist is a typical adaptation to open waters.
The genetic differences are proof that we are not only looking at ecological adaptations within one species, but at different species that have had very little interbreeding with the other char species in the lake for a long period of time.