Sensory systems play crucial roles in survival and reproduction. Therefore, sensory plasticity has important evolutionary implications. In this study, we examined retinal plasticity in five species of cichlid fish from Lake Malawi. We compared the cone opsin expression profiles of wild-caught fish to lab-reared F1 that had been raised in a UV minus, reduced intensity light environment. All of the opsin genes that were expressed in wild-caught fish were also expressed in lab-reared individuals. However, we found statistically significant differences in relative opsin expression among all five species. The most consistent difference was in the SWS2B (violet) opsin, which was always expressed at higher levels in lab-reared individuals. Estimates of visual pigment quantum catch suggest that this change in expression would increase retinal sensitivity in the light environment of the lab. We also found that the magnitude of plasticity varied across species. These findings have important implications for understanding the genetic regulation of opsin expression and raise many interesting questions about how the cichlid visual system develops. They also suggest that sensory plasticity may have facilitated the ecological diversification of cichlids in Lake Malawi.
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