Comparing growth in surface and cave morphs of the species Astyanax mexicanus: insights from scales

Type Article
Date 2017-12
Language English
Other localization
Author(s) Simon Victor1, 2, Elleboode Romain3, Mahe KeligORCID3, Legendre Laurent4, Ornelas-Garcia Patricia5, Espinasa Luis6, Retaux Sylvie1, 2
Affiliation(s) 1 : Paris Saclay Inst Neurosci, CNRS, UMR9197, Ave Terrasse, F-91198 Gif Sur Yvette, France.
2 : Univ Paris Sud & Paris Saclay, Orsay, France.
3 : IFREMER, Fisheries Lab, Sclerochronol Ctr, 150 Quai Gambetta, F-62321 Boulogne Sur Mer, France.
4 : Univ Paris Saclay, CNRS, UMS AMAGEN, INRA, Gif Sur Yvette, France.
5 : Univ Nacl Autonoma Mexico, Dept Zool, Mexico City, DF, Mexico.
6 : Marist Coll, Sch Sci, 3399 North Rd, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601 USA.
Source Evodevo (2041-9139) (Biomed Central Ltd), 2017-12 , Vol. 8 , P. 23 (1-13)
DOI 10.1186/s13227-017-0086-6
WOS© Times Cited 18
Keyword(s) Cave, Fish, Size, Age, Scales, Growth, Food, Comparative biology, Life history traits


Life in the darkness of caves is accompanied, throughout phyla, by striking phenotypic changes including the loss or severe reduction in eyes and pigmentation. On the other hand, cave animals have undergone constructive changes, thought to be adaptive, to survive in this extreme environment. The present study addresses the question of the evolution of growth in caves, taking advantage of the comparison between the river-dwelling and the cave-dwelling morphs of the Mexican tetra, Astyanax mexicanus.


A sclerochronology approach was undertaken to document the growth of the species in these two very distinct habitats. Scales from 158 wild Astyanax mexicanus specimens were analyzed from three caves (Pachón, Tinaja and Subterráneo) and two rivers (Rio Gallinas and Arroyo Lagarto) in San Luis Potosi and Tamaulipas, Mexico. A 10–13% reduction in scales size was observed in the cave morphs compared to the surface morphs. Age could be reliably inferred from annual growth increments on the scales from the two morphs of the species. Further comparisons with growth curves in laboratory conditions, obtained using the von Bertalanffy growth model, were also performed. In the wild and in the laboratory, cavefish originating from the Pachón cave reached smaller sizes than surface fish from three different locations: Rio Gallinas and Arroyo Lagarto (wild sampling) and Texas (laboratory population), respectively. Wild Pachón cavefish also seemed to grow to smaller sizes than the two other wild cavefish populations studied, Tinaja and Subterráneo. Finally, growth in the laboratory was faster than in the wild, particularly in the two first years of life.


These data suggest that cavefish originating from the Pachón cave are subjected to an intrinsic limitation of their final size, which is at least in part independent from energy/food availability. This growth limitation may be an advantageous way of limiting energy expenditure and food needs in the cave environment. Moreover, growth regulation evolved differently in independently evolved cave populations. These results are discussed with regard to the sources of energy or general ecological conditions present in caves, and to the differences in behavior or feeding skills known in cavefish.

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