Publication Date


Journal or Book Title

Nature Communications


Evolutionary constraints may significantly bias phenotypic change, while “breaking” from such constraints can lead to expanded ecological opportunity. Ray-finned fishes have broken functional constraints by developing two jaws (oral-pharyngeal), decoupling prey capture (oral jaw) from processing (pharyngeal jaw). It is hypothesized that the oral and pharyngeal jaws represent independent evolutionary modules and this facilitated diversification in feeding architectures. Here we test this hypothesis in African cichlids. Contrary to our expectation, we find integration between jaws at multiple evolutionary levels. Next, we document integration at the genetic level, and identify a candidate gene, smad7, within a pleiotropic locus for oral and pharyngeal jaw shape that exhibits correlated expression between the two tissues. Collectively, our data show that African cichlid evolutionary success has occurred within the context of a coupled jaw system, an attribute that may be driving adaptive evolution in this iconic group by facilitating rapid shifts between foraging habitats, providing an advantage in a stochastic environment such as the East African Rift-Valley.





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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.