- Divergent Evolution of Male Aggressive Behaviour: Another Reproductive Isolation Barrier in Extremophile Poeciliid Fishes? (2011)
- Reproductive isolation among locally adapted populations may arise when immigrants from foreign habitats are selected against via natural or (inter-)sexual selection (female mate choice). We asked whether also intrasexual selection through male-male competition could promote reproductive isolation among populations of poeciliid fishes that are locally adapted to extreme environmental conditions [i.e., darkness in caves and/or toxic hydrogen sulphide (H(2)S)]. We found strongly reduced aggressiveness in extremophile P. oecilia mexicana, and darkness was the best predictor for the evolutionary reduction of aggressiveness, especially when combined with presence of H(2)S. We demonstrate that reduced aggression directly translates into migrant males being inferior when paired with males from non-sulphidic surface habitats. By contrast, the phylogenetically old sulphur endemic P. sulphuraria from another sulphide spring area showed no overall reduced aggressiveness, possibly indicating evolved mechanisms to better cope with H(2)S.
- Genomic resources for a model in adaptation and speciation research: characterization of the Poecilia mexicana transcriptome (2012)
- Background: Elucidating the genomic basis of adaptation and speciation is a major challenge in natural systems with large quantities of environmental and phenotypic data, mostly because of the scarcity of genomic resources for non-model organisms. The Atlantic molly (Poecilia mexicana, Poeciliidae) is a small livebearing fish that has been extensively studied for evolutionary ecology research, particularly because this species has repeatedly colonized extreme environments in the form of caves and toxic hydrogen sulfide containing springs. In such extreme environments, populations show strong patterns of adaptive trait divergence and the emergence of reproductive isolation. Here, we used RNA-sequencing to assemble and annotate the first transcriptome of P. mexicana to facilitate ecological genomics studies in the future and aid the identification of genes underlying adaptation and speciation in the system. Description: We provide the first annotated reference transcriptome of P. mexicana. Our transcriptome shows high congruence with other published fish transcriptomes, including that of the guppy, medaka, zebrafish, and stickleback. Transcriptome annotation uncovered the presence of candidate genes relevant in the study of adaptation to extreme environments. We describe general and oxidative stress response genes as well as genes involved in pathways induced by hypoxia or involved in sulfide metabolism. To facilitate future comparative analyses, we also conducted quantitative comparisons between P. mexicana from different river drainages. 106,524 single nucleotide polymorphisms were detected in our dataset, including potential markers that are putatively fixed across drainages. Furthermore, specimens from different drainages exhibited some consistent differences in gene regulation. Conclusions: Our study provides a valuable genomic resource to study the molecular underpinnings of adaptation to extreme environments in replicated sulfide spring and cave environments. In addition, this study adds to the increasing number of genomic resources in the family Poeciliidae, which are widely used in comparative analyses of behavior, ecology, evolution, and medical genetics.
- Audience effects in the Atlantic molly (Poecilia mexicana)-prudent male mate choice in response to perceived sperm competition risk? (2009)
- Background Multidirectional interactions in social (or communication) networks can have a profound effect on mate choice behavior. For example, Poecilia mexicana males show weaker expression of mating preferences when being observed by an audience male. It was suggested that this behavior is an adaptation to reduce sperm competition risk, which arises because commonly preferred female phenotypes will receive attention also by surrounding males, and/or because the audience male can copy the focal male's mate choice. Do P. mexicana males indeed respond to perceived sperm competition risk? We gave males a choice between two females and repeated the tests under one of the following conditions: (1) during the 2nd part of the tests an empty transparent cylinder was presented (control); (2) an audience male inside the cylinder observed the focal male throughout the 2nd part, or (3) the audience male was presented only before the tests, but could not eavesdrop during the actual choice tests (non-specific sperm competition risk treatments); (4) the focal male could see a rival male sexually interacting with the previously preferred, or (5) with the non-preferred female before the 2nd part of the tests (specific sperm competition risk treatments). Results When comparing the strength of individual male preferences between the 1st and 2nd part of the tests (before and after presentation of an audience), male preferences declined slightly also during the control treatment (1). However, the decrease in strength of male preferences was more than two-fold stronger in audience treatment (2), i.e., with non-specific sperm competition risk including the possibility for visual eavesdropping by the audience male. No audience effect was found in treatments (3) and (5), but a weak effect was also seen when the focal male had seen the previously preferred female sexually interact with a rival male (treatment 4; specific sperm competition risk). Conclusions When comparing the two 'non-specific sperm competition risk' treatments (2 and 3), a very strong effect was found only when the audience male could actually observe the focal male during mate choice in treatment (2). This suggests that focal males indeed attempt to conceal their mating preferences in the visual presence of other males so as to avoid mate choice copying. When there is no potential for eavesdropping [treatment (3)], non-specific specific sperm competition risk seems to play a minor or no role. Congruent with studies on other poeciliid species, our results also show that P. mexicana males respond to perceived specific sperm competition risk, and tend to share their mating effort more equally among females when the resource value of their previously preferred mate decreases (after mating with a rival male). However, this effect is comparatively weak.
- Locally adapted fish populations maintain small-scale genetic differentiation despite perturbation by a catastrophic flood event (2010)
- Background: Local adaptation to divergent environmental conditions can promote population genetic differentiation even in the absence of geographic barriers and hence, lead to speciation. Perturbations by catastrophic events, however, can distort such parapatric ecological speciation processes. Here, we asked whether an exceptionally strong flood led to homogenization of gene pools among locally adapted populations of the Atlantic molly (Poecilia mexicana, Poeciliidae) in the Cueva del Azufre system in southern Mexico, where two strong environmental selection factors (darkness within caves and/or presence of toxic H2S in sulfidic springs) drive the diversification of P. mexicana. Nine nuclear microsatellites as well as heritable female life history traits (both as a proxy for quantitative genetics and for trait divergence) were used as markers to compare genetic differentiation, genetic diversity, and especially population mixing (immigration and emigration) before and after the flood. Results: Habitat type (i.e., non-sulfidic surface, sulfidic surface, or sulfidic cave), but not geographic distance was the major predictor of genetic differentiation. Before and after the flood, each habitat type harbored a genetically distinct population. Only a weak signal of individual dislocation among ecologically divergent habitat types was uncovered (with the exception of slightly increased dislocation from the Cueva del Azufre into the sulfidic creek, El Azufre). By contrast, several lines of evidence are indicative of increased flood-induced dislocation within the same habitat type, e.g., between different cave chambers of the Cueva del Azufre. Conclusions: The virtual absence of individual dislocation among ecologically different habitat types indicates strong natural selection against migrants. Thus, our current study exemplifies that ecological speciation in this and other systems, in which extreme environmental factors drive speciation, may be little affected by temporary perturbations, as adaptations to physico-chemical stressors may directly affect the survival probability in divergent habitat types.
- Predator-induced changes of female mating preferences: innate and experiential effects (2011)
- Background: In many species males face a higher predation risk than females because males display elaborate traits that evolved under sexual selection, which may attract not only females but also predators. Females are, therefore, predicted to avoid such conspicuous males under predation risk. The present study was designed to investigate predator-induced changes of female mating preferences in Atlantic mollies (Poecilia mexicana). Males of this species show a pronounced polymorphism in body size and coloration, and females prefer large, colorful males in the absence of predators. Results: In dichotomous choice tests predator-naïve (lab-reared) females altered their initial preference for larger males in the presence of the cichlid Cichlasoma salvini, a natural predator of P. mexicana, and preferred small males instead. This effect was considerably weaker when females were confronted visually with the non-piscivorous cichlid Vieja bifasciata or the introduced non-piscivorous Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). In contrast, predator experienced (wild-caught) females did not respond to the same extent to the presence of a predator, most likely due to a learned ability to evaluate their predators' motivation to prey. Conclusions: Our study highlights that (a) predatory fish can have a profound influence on the expression of mating preferences of their prey (thus potentially affecting the strength of sexual selection), and females may alter their mate choice behavior strategically to reduce their own exposure to predators. (b) Prey species can evolve visual predator recognition mechanisms and alter their mate choice only when a natural predator is present. (c) Finally, experiential effects can play an important role, and prey species may learn to evaluate the motivational state of their predators. Keywords: Sexual selection; female choice; non-independent mate choice; predator recognition; Poecilia mexicana
- Shared and unique patterns of embryo development in extremophile poeciliids (2011)
- Background: Closely related lineages of livebearing fishes have independently adapted to two extreme environmental factors: toxic hydrogen sulphide (H2S) and perpetual darkness. Previous work has demonstrated in adult specimens that fish from these extreme habitats convergently evolved drastically increased head and offspring size, while cave fish are further characterized by reduced pigmentation and eye size. Here, we traced the development of these (and other) divergent traits in embryos of Poecilia mexicana from benign surface habitats (“surface mollies”) and a sulphidic cave (“cave mollies”), as well as in embryos of the sister taxon, Poecilia sulphuraria from a sulphidic surface spring (“sulphur mollies”). We asked at which points during development changes in the timing of the involved processes (i.e., heterochrony) would be detectible. Methods and Results: Data were extracted from digital photographs taken of representative embryos for each stage of development and each type of molly. Embryo mass decreased in convergent fashion, but we found patterns of embryonic fat content and ovum/embryo diameter to be divergent among all three types of mollies. The intensity of yellow colouration of the yolk (a proxy for carotenoid content) was significantly lower in cave mollies throughout development. Moreover, while relative head size decreased through development in surface mollies, it increased in both types of extremophile mollies, and eye growth was arrested in mid-stage embryos of cave mollies but not in surface or sulphur mollies. Conclusion: Our results clearly demonstrate that even among sister taxa convergence in phenotypic traits is not always achieved by the same processes during embryo development. Furthermore, teleost development is crucially dependent on sufficient carotenoid stores in the yolk, and so we discuss how the apparent ability of cave mollies to overcome this carotenoid-dependency may represent another potential mechanism explaining the lack of gene flow between surface and cave mollies.
- Inner ear morphology in the Atlantic molly Poecilia mexicana - first detailed microanatomical study of the inner ear of a cyprinodontiform species (2011)
- Background: Fishes show an amazing diversity in hearing abilities, inner ear structures, and otolith morphology. Inner ear morphology, however, has not yet been investigated in detail in any member of the diverse order Cyprinodontiformes. We, therefore, studied the inner ear of the cyprinodontiform freshwater fish Poecilia mexicana by analyzing the position of otoliths in situ, investigating the 3D structure of sensory epithelia, and examining the orientation patterns of ciliary bundles of the sensory hair cells, while combining μ-CT analyses, scanning electron microscopy, and immunocytochemical methods. P. mexicana occurs in different ecotypes, enabling us to study the intra-specific variability (on a qualitative basis) of fish from regular surface streams, and the Cueva del Azufre, a sulfidic cave in southern Mexico. Results: The inner ear of Poecilia mexicana displays a combination of several remarkable features. The utricle is connected rostrally instead of dorso-rostrally to the saccule, and the macula sacculi, therefore, is very close to the utricle. Moreover, the macula sacculi possesses dorsal and ventral bulges. The two studied ecotypes of P. mexicana showed variation mainly in the shape and curvature of the macula lagenae, in the curvature of the macula sacculi, and in the thickness of the otolithic membrane. Conclusions: Our study for the first time provides detailed insights into the auditory periphery of a cyprinodontiform inner ear and thus serves a basis—especially with regard to the application of 3D techniques—for further research on structure-function relationships of inner ears within the species-rich order Cyprinodontiformes. We suggest that other poeciliid taxa, or even other non-poeciliid cyprinodontiforms, may display similar inner ear morphologies as described here.
- "Sie haben das Potenzial!" : Zur Nachwuchsförderung an der Goethe-Universität: Prof. Manfred Schubert-Zsilavecz, Prof. Nicole Deitelhoff und Privatdozent Dr. Martin Plath im Gespräch mit Dr. Anne Hardy und Ulrike Jaspers (2011)
- Predator avoidance in extremophile fish (2013)
- Extreme habitats are often characterized by reduced predation pressures, thus representing refuges for the inhabiting species. The present study was designed to investigate predator avoidance of extremophile populations of Poecilia mexicana and P. sulphuraria that either live in hydrogen sulfide-rich (sulfidic) springs or cave habitats, both of which are known to have impoverished piscine predator regimes. Focal fishes that inhabited sulfidic springs showed slightly weaker avoidance reactions when presented with several naturally occurring predatory cichlids, but strongest differences to populations from non-sulfidic habitats were found in a decreased shoaling tendency with non-predatory swordtail (Xiphophorus hellerii) females. When comparing avoidance reactions between P. mexicana from a sulfidic cave (Cueva del Azufre) and the adjacent sulfidic surface creek (El Azufre), we found only slight differences in predator avoidance, but surface fish reacted much more strongly to the non-predatory cichlid Vieja bifasciata. Our third experiment was designed to disentangle learned from innate effects of predator recognition. We compared laboratory-reared (i.e., predator-naïve) and wild-caught (i.e., predator-experienced) individuals of P. mexicana from a non-sulfidic river and found no differences in their reaction towards the presented predators. Overall, our results indicate (1) that predator avoidance is still functional in extremophile Poecilia spp. and (2) that predator recognition and avoidance reactions have a strong genetic basis.