Evolutionary convergence on sleep loss in cavefish populations

Curr Biol. 2011 Apr 26;21(8):671-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.020. Epub 2011 Apr 7.


Patterns of sleep vary widely among species, but the functional and evolutionary principles responsible for this diversity remain unknown. The characin fish, Astyanax mexicanus, has eyed surface and numerous blind cave populations. The cave populations are largely independent in their origins, and the species is ideal for studying the genetic bases of convergent evolution. Here we show that this system is also uniquely valuable for the investigation of variability in patterns of sleep. We find that a clearly defined change in ecological conditions, from surface to cave, is correlated with a dramatic reduction in sleep in three independently derived cave populations of A. mexicanus. Analyses of surface × cave hybrids show that the alleles for reduced sleep in the Pachón and Tinaja cave populations are dominant in effect to the surface alleles. Genetic analysis of hybrids between surface and Pachón cavefish suggests that only a small number of loci with dominant effects are involved. Our results demonstrate that sleep is an evolutionarily labile phenotype, highly responsive to changes in ecological conditions. To our knowledge, this is the first example of a single species with a convergence on sleep loss exhibited by several independently evolved populations correlated with population-specific ecologies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Ecosystem
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Fishes / genetics
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genetics, Behavioral
  • Hybridization, Genetic
  • Mexico
  • Motor Activity
  • Sleep*
  • Vision, Ocular