Vision, like other biological attributes, is shaped by evolution through environmental pressures and demands, and even closely-related species that are in other ways very similar might respond to their particular environments by interpreting the visual world slightly differently, using photoreceptors that are attuned to particular wavelengths of light. By studying a special group of closely-related fish species inhabiting the Great Lakes of Africa, researchers have uncovered clues to understanding how the components of color vision can undergo change over a relatively short period of evolutionary time.
Credit: Justin Marshall
The work is reported by James K. Bowmaker of University College London, Karen L. Carleton of the University of New Hampshire, and their colleagues.
Cichlid fish of the East African Rift Lakes are renowned for their diversity: Owing to migrations of ancestor species out of Lake Tanganyika and into other lakes, such as Lake Malawi, it has been estimated that hundreds of new cichlid species have arisen in these lakes in the last 100,000 years. Thanks to the relatively recent colonization by these fish of different ecological niches, as well as the prominent role of nuptual coloring in the mating preferences of these species, the cichlids offer a unique opportunity to study how color vision can undergo change in rapidly evolving species. For example, because color plays a significant role in mate choice, differences in color vision could greatly influence and even drive cichlid speciation.
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