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PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e41443. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041443. Epub 2012 Aug 1.

Evolution of space dependent growth in the teleost Astyanax mexicanus.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, United States of America.


The relationship between growth rate and environmental space is an unresolved issue in teleosts. While it is known from aquaculture studies that stocking density has a negative relationship to growth, the underlying mechanisms have not been elucidated, primarily because the growth rate of populations rather than individual fish were the subject of all previous studies. Here we investigate this problem in the teleost Astyanax mexicanus, which consists of a sighted surface-dwelling form (surface fish) and several blind cave-dwelling (cavefish) forms. Surface fish and cavefish are distinguished by living in spatially contrasting environments and therefore are excellent models to study the effects of environmental size on growth. Multiple controlled growth experiments with individual fish raised in confined or unconfined spaces showed that environmental size has a major impact on growth rate in surface fish, a trait we have termed space dependent growth (SDG). In contrast, SDG has regressed to different degrees in the Pachón and Tinaja populations of cavefish. Mating experiments between surface and Pachón cavefish show that SDG is inherited as a dominant trait and is controlled by multiple genetic factors. Despite its regression in blind cavefish, SDG is not affected when sighted surface fish are raised in darkness, indicating that vision is not required to perceive and react to environmental space. Analysis of plasma cortisol levels showed that an elevation above basal levels occurred soon after surface fish were exposed to confined space. This initial cortisol peak was absent in Pachón cavefish, suggesting that the effects of confined space on growth may be mediated partly through a stress response. We conclude that Astyanax reacts to confined spaces by exhibiting SDG, which has a genetic component and shows evolutionary regression during adaptation of cavefish to confined environments.

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