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J Exp Biol. 2018 Jan 11;221(Pt 1). pii: jeb165191. doi: 10.1242/jeb.165191.

Environmental, population and life-stage plasticity in the visual system of Atlantic cod.

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Department of Biology, University of Bergen, NO-5020 Bergen, Norway
Department of Biology, University of Bergen, NO-5020 Bergen, Norway.


The visual system is for many fishes essential in guiding behaviors, such as foraging, predator avoidance and mate choice. The marine environment is characterized by large spatio-temporal fluctuations in light intensity and spectral composition. However, visual capabilities are restricted by both space limitations set by eye size and by the genomic content of light-absorbing opsin genes. The rich array of visual opsins in teleosts may be used differentially to tune vision towards specific needs during ontogeny and to changing light. Yet, to what extent visual plasticity is a pre-programmed developmental event, or is triggered by photic environment, is unclear. Our previous studies on Atlantic cod revealed an evolutionary genomic loss of UV-sensitive sws1 and red-sensitive lws opsin families, while blue-sensitive sws2 and green-sensitive rh2 opsins had duplicated. The current study has taken an opsin expression approach to characterize visual plasticity in cod towards different spectral light during the larval stage, to maturation and extreme seasonal changes in the Barents Sea. Our data suggest that opsin plasticity in cod larvae is controlled by developmental programme rather than immediate light environment. The lack of expressional changes during maturation suggests a less important role for visual modulation related to mate choice. Although no seasonal effects on visual opsins were detected in migratory Northeast Arctic cod, the expressed opsin subset differed from the more stationary Norwegian coastal cod described in previous studies. Interestingly, these data provide the first indications of a population difference in actively used visual opsins associated with cod ecotypes.


Larvae; Maturation; Northeast Arctic cod; Opsin; Population; Retina

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