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Keywords:

  • adaptation;
  • evo-devo;
  • eye patterning;
  • gene expression variation;
  • troglomorphic traits

Abstract

Caves provide excellent settings to examine evolutionary questions. Subterranean environments are characterized by similar and consistent conditions. Cave-adapted species often share characteristics such as diminished pigmentation, elongated limbs and reduced or absent eyes. Relatively little is known about the evolution and development of troglomorphic traits in invertebrates. In this study, we compare expression of the eye development genes hedgehog, pax6, sine oculis and dachshund in individuals from multiple independently derived cave populations of the amphipod Gammarus minus. hedgehog expression was significantly reduced in cave populations, compared to genetically related surface populations. Interestingly, no differences were found in pax6, sine oculis or dachshund expression. Because hedgehog-related genes are also involved in eye reduced in Astyanax mexicanus, these genes may be consistent targets of evolution during cave adaptation. These results provide support for the hypothesis of genomic ‘hotspots’ of evolution and allow comparison of adaptive mechanisms among diverse animals in subterranean environments.