Evolution and development in cave animals: from fish to crustaceans

Wiley Interdiscip Rev Dev Biol. Nov-Dec 2012;1(6):823-45. doi: 10.1002/wdev.61.


Cave animals are excellent models to study the general principles of evolution as well as the mechanisms of adaptation to a novel environment: the perpetual darkness of caves. In this article, two of the major model systems used to study the evolution and development (evo-devo) of cave animals are described: the teleost fish Astyanax mexicanus and the isopod crustacean Asellus aquaticus. The ways in which these animals match the major attributes expected of an evo-devo cave animal model system are described. For both species, we enumerate the regressive and constructive troglomorphic traits that have evolved during their adaptation to cave life, the developmental and genetic basis of these traits, the possible evolutionary forces responsible for them, and potential new areas in which these model systems could be used for further exploration of the evolution of cave animals. Furthermore, we compare the two model cave animals to investigate the mechanisms of troglomorphic evolution. Finally, we propose a few other cave animal systems that would be suitable for development as additional models to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the developmental and genetic mechanisms involved in troglomorphic evolution.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Crustacea / genetics
  • Crustacea / growth & development*
  • Crustacea / metabolism
  • Eye / growth & development
  • Eye / metabolism
  • Fishes / genetics
  • Fishes / growth & development*
  • Fishes / metabolism
  • Genome
  • Hedgehog Proteins / metabolism
  • Models, Animal


  • Hedgehog Proteins