Poster Presentation Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution Conference 2016

Multiple genetic mechanisms contribute to visual sensitivity variation in the Labridae (#359)

Genevieve A. C. Phillips 1 , Karen L. Carleton 2 , Justin Marshall 1
  1. Visual Ecology Lab, The Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  2. Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, USA

Understanding how coral reef fish view their environment is central to learning more about their behavioural ecology. We hypothesise that visual systems have evolved to be well adapted to the feeding ecology of the animal. For example zooplanktivores are likely to have highly acute short-distance vision and ultraviolet (UV) vision for better discrimination of small, colourless animals against a highly UV background. In contrast, herbivorous fishes are likely to have poorer visual acuity, but good colour discrimination at longer wavelengths (brown/green). To test these hypotheses, we investigated the visual ecology of 27 species within the coral reef fish family Labridae: a large, polyphyletic group of predatory wrasses and herbivorous parrotfish. RNA-Seq identified the visual opsin genes expressed within the retina, and their relative expression levels. Six of the seven teleost opsin classes were found in the labrids: RH1 (rods); SWS1; SWS2B; RH2A; RH2B; LWS (cones). We then estimated the spectral sensitivities of the labrids (λ max), by identifying amino acid changes at key tuning sites within the visual pigment sequences. In some species, this was compared to microspectrophotometric (MSP) recordings that identify the wavelength of peak absorption of an individual photoreceptor. We also investigated the anatomical properties of the eye, including the distribution of cone photoreceptors in a sub-sample of species. Our results suggest the labrids have extremely variable visual systems. A few species express UV-sensitive opsins (zooplanktivores), while the majority do not. In particular, the Scarines (herbivorous parrotfish) and Cheilines (predatory wrasses) have retinas dominated by long-wavelength-sensitive opsins, with many species having LWS gene duplications. Estimates of λ max using opsin sequences broadly agree with MSP recordings. We conclude that there are strong correlations between labrid visual opsin expression, feeding ecology, and anatomical measurements of the eye that support our initial hypotheses.