Shaping development through mechanical strain: the transcriptional basis of diet‐induced phenotypic plasticity in a cichlid fish

  title={Shaping development through mechanical strain: the transcriptional basis of diet‐induced phenotypic plasticity in a cichlid fish},
  author={Helen M Gunter and Shaohua Fan and Fan Xiong and Paolo Franchini and Carmelo Fruciano and Axel Meyer},
  journal={Molecular Ecology},
Adaptive phenotypic plasticity, the ability of an organism to change its phenotype to match local environments, is increasingly recognized for its contribution to evolution. However, few empirical studies have explored the molecular basis of plastic traits. The East African cichlid fish Astatoreochromis alluaudi displays adaptive phenotypic plasticity in its pharyngeal jaw apparatus, a structure that is widely seen as an evolutionary key innovation that has contributed to the remarkable… 

Molecular investigation of mechanical strain-induced phenotypic plasticity in the ecologically important pharyngeal jaws of cichlid fish

A model for the molecular basis of mechanically induced skeletal plasticity in teleosts is constructed, which involves iterative cycles of strain and compensatory cellular proliferation and a framework for testing the potential influence of phenotypic plasticity and genetic assimilation on adaptive radiations is proposed.

Regulatory gene networks that shape the development of adaptive phenotypic plasticity in a cichlid fish

An interconnected, environmentally responsive regulatory network is identified that shapes the development of plasticity in a key innovation of East African cichlids, presenting evidence for regulatory crosstalk between bone and muscle tissues, which putatively facilitates thedevelopment of this highly integrated trait.

Towards a gene regulatory network perspective on phenotypic plasticity, genetic accommodation and genetic assimilation

One of the first efforts to determine the GRN underlying a plastic trait in the cichlid fish, Astatoreochromis alluaudi, is described, which is likely to control LPJ morphology and advances understanding of how plasticity can arise as a consequence of environmentally sensitive GRNs.

Linking conceptual mechanisms and transcriptomic evidence of plasticity‐driven diversification

The ontogeny of the molecular response to mechanical strain imposed by diet hardness is examined and the role of the stages of this response in the evolution of plasticity and plasticity‐driven diversification is discussed.

Divergence in larval jaw gene expression reflects differential trophic adaptation in haplochromine cichlids prior to foraging

The results provide cross-species transcriptional comparisons of modularly-regulated skeletogenic genes in the two jaw types, implicating expression differences which might contribute to the formation of divergent trophic morphologies at the stage of larval independence prior to foraging.


Both a genetic, but also a phenotypic plastic component is involved in the development of hypertrophic lips in Neotropical cichlids, suggesting that plasticity is selected for in recent thick‐lipped species.

Molecular investigation of genetic assimilation during the rapid adaptive radiations of East African cichlid fishes

The results suggest that genetic assimilation may have dampened the inducibility of plasticity related genes during the adaptive radiations of East African cichlids, flattening the reaction norms and canalizing their feeding phenotypes, driving adaptation to progressively more narrow ecological niches.

The Role of Alternative Splicing and Differential Gene Expression in Cichlid Adaptive Radiation

J jaw transcriptional patterns at postlarval developmental stage were highly dynamic and species-specific, indicating that shifts in alternative splicing could have played a more important role in cichlid adaptive radiation, and possibly adaptive radiation in general, than currently recognized.

Phenotypic plasticity in vertebrate dentitions.

Elucidating the underlying physiological, developmental, and genetic mechanisms that generate phenotypic plasticity can clarify its potential role in the evolution of dental phenotypes.

Morphometric approaches to variation, variability, and constraints on phenotypic evolution

This thesis demonstrates that the investigation of constraints and structural aspects of morphology contribute unique insights on the origin of macroevolutionary patterns using the analytical toolbox of morphometrics.



Developmental plasticity mirrors differences among taxa in spadefoot toads linking plasticity and diversity

Differences in the larval period explain 57% of the variance in relative limb length and 33% of snout length across species, and morphological diversity across these species appears to have evolved as a correlated response to selection for a reduced larval periods in desert-dwelling species.

Adaptive phenotypic plasticity in the Midas cichlid fish pharyngeal jaw and its relevance in adaptive radiation

The pharyngeal jaw apparatus of Midas Cichlids can be expressed plastically if stimulated mechanically during feeding, which suggests that adaptive phenotypic plasticity in this trait could play an important role in cichlid speciation in general.

Evolution and molecular mechanisms of adaptive developmental plasticity

This work focuses on recent advances and examples from morphological traits in animals to provide a broad overview of the evolution of developmental plasticity, as well as its relevance to adaptive evolution.

Feeding and breathing: trait correlations in an African cichlid fish

This study quantified relationships between morphological traits related to feeding and respiration and the physico-chemical environment in a widespread cichlid fish Astatoreochromis alluaudi, from six sites in Uganda and found a significant negative correlation between composite morphological variables relating to the size and shape of gill apparatus and pharyngeal jaw size.

A Test of the “Flexible Stem” Model of Evolution: Ancestral Plasticity, Genetic Accommodation, and Morphological Divergence in the Threespine Stickleback Radiation

When marine fish were reared on alternative diets, plasticity of head and mouth shape paralleled phenotypic divergence between the derived ecotypes, supporting the flexible stem model.

Genomic reaction norms: using integrative biology to understand molecular mechanisms of phenotypic plasticity

This review presents examples of integrative studies that illustrate the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying plastic traits, and shows how new techniques will grow in importance in the study of these plastic molecular processes.


Differences in intra- and interspecific transformations of the pharyngeal jaw apparatus of haplochromine cichlids of Astatoreochromis alluaudi are described and apparently there are among haplochromaines multiple pathways to achieve similar performance.

Comparative study of lower pharyngeal jaw structure in two phenotypes of Astatoreochromis alluaudi (teleostei: Cichlidae)

Examination of wild‐caught (snail‐eating) fish and specimens experimentally reared on soft food for differences in bone structure in their lower pharyngeal jaw reveals differing growth trajectories, indicating that porosity does not change on one growth trajectory or from one phenotype to another.

Evolutionary Strategies and Morphological Innovations: Cichlid Pharyngeal Jaws

The conversion of the preexisting elements into a new and significantly improved cichlid adaptive complex of high selective value may have evolved by rapid steps under influence of strong selection pressure acting on the minor reconstruction of the -genotype which is involved in evolutionary changes of the pertinent ontogenetic mechanisms.


  • A. Meyer
  • Biology, Environmental Science
    Evolution; international journal of organic evolution
  • 1987
The influence of diet on trophic morphology during ontogeny in Cichlasoma managuense was examined and two groups of full siblings were fed two different diets for eight months after the onset of feeding; thereafter both groups were fed a common diet.