The cusp of evolution and development: a model of cichlid tooth shape diversity

Authors

  • J. T. Streelman,

    Corresponding author
    1. Hubbard Center for Genome Studies, 4th Floor, Environmental Technology Building, University of New Hampshire, 35 Colovos Road, Durham, NH 03824, USA
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  • J. F. Webb,

    1. Department of Biology, Villanova University, Villanova, PA 19085, USA
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  • R. C. Albertson,

    1. Hubbard Center for Genome Studies, 4th Floor, Environmental Technology Building, University of New Hampshire, 35 Colovos Road, Durham, NH 03824, USA
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    • 1Present address: Department of Cytokine Biology, The Forsyth Institute, 140 The Fenway, Boston, MA 02115, USA.

  • T. D. Kocher

    1. Hubbard Center for Genome Studies, 4th Floor, Environmental Technology Building, University of New Hampshire, 35 Colovos Road, Durham, NH 03824, USA
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*Author for correspondence (e-mail: jts3@hopper.unh.edu)

Summary

Tooth shape is a hallmark of repeated evolutionary radiations among cichlid fishes from East Africa. Cusp shape and number vary both within populations and among closely related species with different feeding behaviors and ecologies. Here, we use histology and scanning electron microscopy to chart the developmental trajectory of tooth shape differences in fishes from Lake Malawi. We demonstrate that species with bi- or tricuspid adult (replacement) teeth initially possess a first-generation unicuspid dentition. Notably, the timing of turnover from first-generation to replacement teeth differs among species and is correlated with feeding ecology. Next, we use field data for cichlid species with adult unicuspid, bicuspid, and tricuspid teeth to demonstrate a strong and positive relationship between the number of teeth in a row and tooth shape. We discuss cichlid tooth ontogeny in the context of morphogenetic models designed to explain the developmental basis of tooth shape variation in mammals. We suggest that the dramatic differences in cichlid dentitions can be explained by variation in the expression of common activators and inhibitors acting at multiple stages of odontogenesis.

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