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Killifish -- research


  1. Repeated, independent emergence of the same trait within different phylogenetic lineages is termed parallel evolution. It typically occurs as a result of similar selective pressures. Annual killifish have adapted to survive in the extreme habitat of temporary pools on three continents and present an especially amenable system for studying fundamental principles of evolutionary parallelism. When the pools dry, annual killifish embryos survive through the dry phase in the bottom substrate in a stage of dormancy—a diapause. The diapause is a complex set of three different developmental stages, none of which is obligate, thus leading to a multitude of potential developmental trajectories. While the intricacy of the killifishes' embryonic development has been thoroughly studied in the laboratory, information on their natural development is virtually absent. We hypothesised that the natural development of annual killifishes is largely synchronised and governed by ambient conditions as shown in the lineage of the African genus Nothobranchius.
  2. We sampled wild embryo banks of the South American genus Austrolebias, which evolved its diapause independently of the African lineage. We sampled during two consecutive dry seasons, using both longitudinal and snapshot monitoring, and conducted transplant experiments to determine the extent of the evolutionary parallelism and role of the environment in Austrolebias spp. embryo development.
  3. Main habitat phases were characterised by largely synchronised embryo banks. Different inter-seasonal or local environmental conditions were reflected in a different developmental profile of the embryo banks, suggesting a high degree of environmental control.
  4. We found striking similarity in the habitat phase–embryo stage associations between the two lineages. The diapause in the two annual killifish lineages represents a unique example of evolutionary parallelism, with the analogy manifested in very close detail. We highlight the similarity of the selective forces in the two genera despite the different geographic origins, climate zones and reversed seasonality. The repeatedly occurring strict association of the same developmental stages with the same habitat conditions suggests a limited array of developmental settings that can be applied to cope with the given environmental challenges.


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