Multiple Genetic Mechanisms Contribute to Visual Sensitivity Variation in the Labridae

Mol Biol Evol. 2016 Jan;33(1):201-15. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msv213. Epub 2015 Oct 12.


Coral reefs are one of the most spectrally diverse environments, both in terms of habitat and animal color. Species identity, sex, and camouflage are drivers of the phenotypic diversity seen in coral reef fishes, but how the phenotypic diversity is reflected in the genotype remains to be answered. The labrids are a large, polyphyletic family of coral reef fishes that display a diverse range of colors, including developmental color morphs and extensive behavioral ecologies. Here, we assess the opsin sequence and expression diversity among labrids from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. We found that labrids express a diverse palette of visual opsins, with gene duplications in both RH2 and LWS genes. The majority of opsins expressed were within the mid-to-long wavelength sensitive classes (RH2 and LWS). Three of the labrid species expressed SWS1 (ultra-violet sensitive) opsins with the majority expressing the violet-sensitive SWS2B gene and none expressing SWS2A. We used knowledge about spectral tuning sites to calculate approximate spectral sensitivities (λmax) for individual species' visual pigments, which corresponded well with previously published λmax values for closely related species (SWS1: 356-370 nm; SWS2B: 421-451 nm; RH2B: 452-492 nm; RH2A: 516-528 nm; LWS1: 554-555 nm; LWS2: 561-562 nm). In contrast to the phenotypic diversity displayed via color patterns and feeding ecology, there was little amino acid diversity within the known opsin sequence tuning sites. However, gene duplications and differential expression provide alternative mechanisms for tuning visual pigments, resulting in variable visual sensitivities among labrid species.

Keywords: Labridae; RNA-Seq; opsins; reef fish; visual ecology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fishes / genetics*
  • Gene Duplication / genetics*
  • Opsins / chemistry
  • Opsins / genetics*
  • Opsins / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Retina / metabolism


  • Opsins