Countershading, characterized by a darker dorsal surface and lighter ventral surface, is common among many animals. This dorsoventral pigment polarity is often thought to be adaptive coloration for camouflage. By contrast, noncountershaded (melanistic) morphs often occur within a species due to genetic color polymorphism in terrestrial animals. However, the polymorphism with either countershaded or melanistic morphs is poorly known in wild aquatic animals. This study explored the genetic nature of diverged color morphs of a lineage of gudgeon fish (genus Sarcocheilichthys) in the ancient Lake Biwa and propose this system as a novel model for testing hypotheses of functional aspects of countershading and its loss in aquatic environments. This system harbors two color morphs that have been treated taxonomically as separate species; Sarcocheilichthys variegatus microoculus which occurs throughout the littoral zone and Sarcocheilichthys biwaensis which occurs in and around rocky areas. First, we confirmed that the divergence of dorsoventral color patterns between the two morphs is under strict genetic control at the levels of chromatophore distribution and melanin-related gene expression under common garden rearing. The former morph displayed sharp countershading coloration, whereas the latter morph exhibited a strong tendency toward its loss. The crossing results indicated that this divergence was likely controlled by a single locus in a two-allele Mendelian inheritance pattern. Furthermore, our population genomic and genome-wide association study analyses detected no genome-wide divergence between the two morphs, except for one region near a locus that may be associated with the color divergence. Thus, these morphs are either in a state of intraspecific color polymorphism or two incipient species. Evolutionary forces underlying this polymorphism appear to be associated with heterogeneous littoral environments in this lake. Future ecological genomic research will provide insight into adaptive functions of this widespread coloration, including the eco-evolutionary drivers of its loss, in the aquatic world.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation