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Keywords:

  • Evolutionary genomics;
  • gene duplication;
  • opsin;
  • Poeciliidae;
  • sensory system;
  • visual system

Expansions in sensory systems usually require processes such as gene duplication and divergence, and thus evolve slowly. We evaluate a novel mechanism leading to rapid sensory repertoire expansion: hybrid-sensory expansion (HSE). HSE occurs when two species with differently tuned sensory systems form a hybrid, bringing together alleles from each of the parental species. In one generation, a sensory repertoire is created that is the sum of the variance between parental species. The Amazon molly presents a unique opportunity to test the HSE hypothesis in a “frozen” hybrid. We compared opsin sequences of the Amazon molly, Poecilia formosa, to those of the parental species. Both parental species are homozygous at the RH2–1 locus and each of the four long wavelength sensitive loci, while P.  formosa possess two different alleles at these loci; one matching each parental allele. Gene expression analysis showed P.  formosa use the expanded opsin repertoire that was the result of HSE. Additionally, behavioral tests revealed P.  formosa respond to colored stimuli in a manner similar or intermediate to the parental species P. mexicana and P. latipinna. Together these results strongly support the HSE hypothesis. Hybrid-sensory repertoire expansion is likely important in other hybrid species and in other sensory systems.