The spectacular marine-like diversity of the endemic fauna of Lake Tanganyika, the oldest of the African Great Lakes, led early researchers to suggest that the lake must have once been connected to the ocean. Recent geophysical reconstructions clearly indicate that Lake Tanganyika formed by rifting in the African subcontinent and was never directly linked to the sea. Although the Lake has a high proportion of specialized endemics, the absence of close relatives outside Tanganyika has complicated phylogeographic reconstructions of the timing of lake colonization and intralacustrine diversification. The freshwater herring of Lake Tanganyika are members of a large group of pellonuline herring found in western and southern Africa, offering one of the best opportunities to trace the evolutionary history of members of Tanganyika’s biota. Molecular phylogenetic reconstructions indicate that herring colonized West Africa 25–50MYA, at the end of a major marine incursion in the region. Pellonuline herring subsequently experienced an evolutionary radiation in West Africa, spreading across the continent and reaching East Africa’s Lake Tanganyika during its early formation. While Lake Tanganyika has never been directly connected with the sea, the endemic freshwater herring of the lake are the descendents of an ancient marine
incursion, a scenario which may also explain the origin of other Tanganyikan endemics.