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1.  Trade-offs in cavefish sensory capacity 
BMC Biology  2013;11:5.
In caves one repeatedly finds strikingly convergent patterns of evolution in diverse sets of organisms involving 'regressive' traits such as the loss of eyes and pigmentation. Ongoing debate centers around whether these regressive traits arise as the result of neutral evolutionary processes, or rather by natural selection of 'constructive' traits that arise at the expense of eyes and pigmentation. Recent research on cavefish points to the latter, suggesting that the 'constructive' trait vibrational attractive behavior and the reduction of eye size may share a common genetic basis.
See research article
PMCID: PMC3554488  PMID: 23347449
3.  Rapid sympatric ecological differentiation of crater lake cichlid fishes within historic times 
BMC Biology  2010;8:60.
After a volcano erupts, a lake may form in the cooled crater and become an isolated aquatic ecosystem. This makes fishes in crater lakes informative for understanding sympatric evolution and ecological diversification in barren environments. From a geological and limnological perspective, such research offers insight about the process of crater lake ecosystem establishment and speciation. In the present study we use genetic and coalescence approaches to infer the colonization history of Midas cichlid fishes (Amphilophus cf. citrinellus) that inhabit a very young crater lake in Nicaragua-the ca. 1800 year-old Lake Apoyeque. This lake holds two sympatric, endemic morphs of Midas cichlid: one with large, hypertrophied lips (~20% of the total population) and another with thin lips. Here we test the associated ecological, morphological and genetic diversification of these two morphs and their potential to represent incipient speciation.
Gene coalescence analyses [11 microsatellite loci and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences] suggest that crater lake Apoyeque was colonized in a single event from the large neighbouring great lake Managua only about 100 years ago. This founding in historic times is also reflected in the extremely low nuclear and mitochondrial genetic diversity in Apoyeque. We found that sympatric adult thin- and thick-lipped fishes occupy distinct ecological trophic niches. Diet, body shape, head width, pharyngeal jaw size and shape and stable isotope values all differ significantly between the two lip-morphs. The eco-morphological features pharyngeal jaw shape, body shape, stomach contents and stable isotopes (╬┤15N) all show a bimodal distribution of traits, which is compatible with the expectations of an initial stage of ecological speciation under disruptive selection. Genetic differentiation between the thin- and thick-lipped population is weak at mtDNA sequence (FST = 0.018) and absent at nuclear microsatellite loci (FST < 0.001).
This study provides empirical evidence of eco-morphological differentiation occurring very quickly after the colonization of a new and vacant habitat. Exceptionally low levels of neutral genetic diversity and inference from coalescence indicates that the Midas cichlid population in Apoyeque is much younger (ca. 100 years or generations old) than the crater itself (ca. 1 800 years old). This suggests either that the crater remained empty for many hundreds of years after its formation or that remnant volcanic activity prevented the establishment of a stable fish population during the early life of the crater lake. Based on our findings of eco-morphological variation in the Apoyeque Midas cichlids, and known patterns of adaptation in Midas cichlids in general, we suggest that this population may be in a very early stage of speciation (incipient species), promoted by disruptive selection and ecological diversification.
PMCID: PMC2880021  PMID: 20459869
4.  Dual control by a single gene of secondary sexual characters and mating preferences in medaka 
BMC Biology  2009;7:64.
Animals utilize a wide variety of tactics to attract reproductive partners. Behavioral experiments often indicate an important role for visual cues in fish, but their molecular basis remains almost entirely unknown. Studies on model species (such as zebrafish and medaka) allow investigations into this fundamental question in behavioral and evolutionary biology.
Through mate-choice experiences using several laboratory strains of various body colors, we successfully identified one medaka mutant (color interfere; ci) that is distinctly unattractive to reproductive partners. This unattractiveness seems to be due to reduced orange pigment cells (xanthophores) in the skin. The ci strain carries a mutation on the somatolactin alpha (SLa) gene, therefore we expected over-expression of SLa to make medaka hyper-attractive. Indeed, extremely strong mating preferences were detected in a choice between the ci and SLa-transgenic (Actb-SLa:GFP) medaka. Intriguingly, however, the strains showed opposite biases; that is, the mutant and transgenic medaka liked to mate with partners from their own strain, similar to becoming sexually isolated.
This study spotlighted SLa as a novel mate-choice gene in fish. In addition, these results are the first demonstration of a single gene that can pleiotropically and harmoniously change both secondary sexual characters and mating preferences. Although theoretical models have long suggested joint evolution of linked genes on a chromosome, a mutation on a gene-regulatory region (that is, switching on/off of a single gene) might be sufficient to trigger two 'runaway' processes in different directions to promote (sympatric) speciation.
PMCID: PMC2761876  PMID: 19788724
5.  Adaptive sequence evolution in a color gene involved in the formation of the characteristic egg-dummies of male haplochromine cichlid fishes 
BMC Biology  2007;5:51.
The exceptionally diverse species flocks of cichlid fishes in East Africa are prime examples of parallel adaptive radiations. About 80% of East Africa's more than 1 800 endemic cichlid species, and all species of the flocks of Lakes Victoria and Malawi, belong to a particularly rapidly evolving lineage, the haplochromines. One characteristic feature of the haplochromines is their possession of egg-dummies on the males' anal fins. These egg-spots mimic real eggs and play an important role in the mating system of these maternal mouthbrooding fish.
Here, we show that the egg-spots of haplochromines are made up of yellow pigment cells, xanthophores, and that a gene coding for a type III receptor tyrosine kinase, colony-stimulating factor 1 receptor a (csf1ra), is expressed in egg-spot tissue. Molecular evolutionary analyses reveal that the extracellular ligand-binding and receptor-interacting domain of csf1ra underwent adaptive sequence evolution in the ancestral lineage of the haplochromines, coinciding with the emergence of egg-dummies. We also find that csf1ra is expressed in the egg-dummies of a distantly related cichlid species, the ectodine cichlid Ophthalmotilapia ventralis, in which markings with similar functions evolved on the pelvic fin in convergence to those of the haplochromines.
We conclude that modifications of existing signal transduction mechanisms might have evolved in the haplochromine lineage in association with the origination of anal fin egg-dummies. That positive selection has acted during the evolution of a color gene that seems to be involved in the morphogenesis of a sexually selected trait, the egg-dummies, highlights the importance of further investigations of the comparative genomic basis of the phenotypic diversification of cichlid fishes.
PMCID: PMC2254590  PMID: 18005399
6.  Three rounds (1R/2R/3R) of genome duplications and the evolution of the glycolytic pathway in vertebrates 
BMC Biology  2006;4:16.
Evolution of the deuterostome lineage was accompanied by an increase in systematic complexity especially with regard to highly specialized tissues and organs. Based on the observation of an increased number of paralogous genes in vertebrates compared with invertebrates, two entire genome duplications (2R) were proposed during the early evolution of vertebrates. Most glycolytic enzymes occur as several copies in vertebrate genomes, which are specifically expressed in certain tissues. Therefore, the glycolytic pathway is particularly suitable for testing theories of the involvement of gene/genome duplications in enzyme evolution.
We assembled datasets from genomic databases of at least nine vertebrate species and at least three outgroups (one deuterostome and two protostomes), and used maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods to construct phylogenies of the 10 enzymes of the glycolytic pathway. Through this approach, we intended to gain insights into the vertebrate specific evolution of enzymes of the glycolytic pathway. Many of the obtained gene trees generally reflect the history of two rounds of duplication during vertebrate evolution, and were in agreement with the hypothesis of an additional duplication event within the lineage of teleost fish. The retention of paralogs differed greatly between genes, and no direct link to the multimeric structure of the active enzyme was found.
The glycolytic pathway has subsequently evolved by gene duplication and divergence of each constituent enzyme with taxon-specific individual gene losses or lineage-specific duplications. The tissue-specific expression might have led to an increased retention for some genes since paralogs can subdivide the ancestral expression domain or find new functions, which are not necessarily related to the original function.
PMCID: PMC1508162  PMID: 16756667

Results 1-6 (6)