4 years ago

The role of alternative splicing and differential gene expression in cichlid adaptive radiation.

Heather More, Pooja Singh, Christine Börger, Christian Sturmbauer
Species diverge eco-morphologically through the continuous action of natural selection on functionally important structures, producing alternative adaptive morphologies. In cichlid fishes, the oral and pharyngeal jaws are such key structures. Adaptive variation in jaw morphology contributes to trophic specialisation, which is hypothesised to fuel their rapid speciation in the East African Great Lakes. Much is known about the genes involved in cichlid jaw and craniofacial development. However, it is still unclear what salient sources of variation gave rise to trophic-niche specialisation, facilitating adaptive radiation. Here we explore two sources of transcriptional variation that may underlie species-specific disparities in jaw morphology. Using whole transcriptome RNA-sequencing we analyse differences in gene expression and alternative splicing, at the end of post-larval development, in fully functional jaws of six species of cichlids from the Lake Tanganyika tribe Tropheini. Our data reveal a surprisingly high degree of alternative splicing events compared to gene expression differences among species and trophic types. This suggests that differential trophic adaptation of the jaw apparatus may have been shaped by transcriptional re-wiring of splicing as well as gene expression variation during the rapid radiation of the Tropheini. Specifically, genes undergoing splicing across most species were found to be enriched for pharyngeal jaw gene ontology terms. Overall, jaw transcriptional patterns at post-larval developmental stage were highly dynamic and species-specific. In conclusion, this work indicates that shifts in alternative splicing could have played a more important role in cichlid adaptive radiation, and possibly adaptive radiation in general, than currently recognised.

Publisher URL: http://doi.org/10.1093/gbe/evx204

DOI: 10.1093/gbe/evx204

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