Development and evolution of melanophore patterns in fishes of the genus Danio (Teleostei: Cyprinidae)

J Morphol. 1999 Jul;241(1):83-105. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-4687(199907)241:1<83::AID-JMOR5>3.0.CO;2-H.


Pigmentation patterns in vertebrates have become an important model for those interested in mechanisms of pattern determination. I present detailed information on the development of melanophore patterns in the zebrafish, Danio rerio, five close relatives of that species, and an outgroup. The comparison of the ontogeny of melanophore patterns in this group is an important first step towards understanding the developmental basis of the interspecific variation. Pigment patterns in this group range from no distinct patterning at all to stripes of differing numbers and widths to reticulated stripes. Species examined form identical larval patterns and follow a common sequence of events from which different elements are eliminated or altered to produce the variety of patterns seen in the group. As flexion is completed, melanophores move from larval positions onto the flanks of the fish. In D. rerio, D. rerio 'leo,' D. kerri, and D. malabaricus, xanthophores become established on the body of the fish as the melanophores move; erythrophores become established on the flanks of D. albolineatus and D. sp. cf. aequipinnatus. An increase in melanophore number, begun at this time, continues at a higher rate in D. rerio, D. kerri, D. sp. cf. aequipinnatus and Tanichthys albonubes than in the other three species. This results in a greater number of melanophores on adults in those species with a higher rate of melanophore increase. No distinct pattern forms, except on the caudal peduncle, in D. albolineatus. In all other Danio species, melanophore stripes form first below then above the horizontal myoseptum. Additional stripes are added first below then above these initial two stripes. D. kerri develops fewer, wider melanophore stripes than D. rerio. After initial stripe formation, D. malabaricus and D. sp. cf. aequipinnatus both developed vertical pattern elements and reticulations in the melanophore pattern. Differences in patterns between species are similar in several cases to described mutants of the zebrafish, suggesting that some aspects of interspecific pigmentation pattern variation may be under relatively simple genetic control. Copyright 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.