Skip to main content
Dryad logo

Data from: Baby fish working out: an epigenetic source of adaptive variation in the cichlid jaw


Hu, Yinan; Albertson, R. Craig (2017), Data from: Baby fish working out: an epigenetic source of adaptive variation in the cichlid jaw, Dryad, Dataset,


Understanding the developmental processes that underlie the production of adaptive variation (i.e. the ‘arrival of the fittest’) is a major goal of evolutionary biology. While most evo-devo studies focus on the genetic underpinnings of adaptive phenotypic variation, factors beyond changes in nucleotide sequence can also play a major role in shaping developmental outcomes. Here, we document a vigorous but enigmatic gaping behaviour during the early development of Lake Malawi cichlid larvae. The onset of the behaviour precedes the formation of bone, and we predicted that it might influence craniofacial shape by affecting the mechanical environment in which bone develops. Consistent with this, we found that both natural variation and experimental manipulation of this behaviour induced differential skeletal development that foreshadows adaptive variation in adult trophic morphology. In fact, the magnitude of difference in skeletal morphology induced by these simple shifts in behaviour was similar to those predicted to be caused by genetic factors. Finally, we demonstrate that this mechanical-load-induced shift in skeletal development is associated with differences in ptch1 expression, a gene previously implicated in mediating between-species differences in skeletal shape. Our results underscore the complexity of development, and the importance of epigenetic (sensu Waddington) mechanisms in determining adaptive phenotypic variation.

Usage Notes


National Science Foundation, Award: IOS-1054909, IOS-1558003


Lake Malawi