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


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.


Cave, Fish, Size, Age, Scales, Growth, Food, Comparative biology, Life history traits

How to cite
Simon Victor, Elleboode Romain, Mahe Kelig, Legendre Laurent, Ornelas-Garcia Patricia, Espinasa Luis, Retaux Sylvie (2017). Comparing growth in surface and cave morphs of the species Astyanax mexicanus: insights from scales. Evodevo. 8. 23 (1-13).,

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