Evolution of rhodopsin in flatfishes (Pleuronectiformes) is associated with depth and migratory behavior

J Fish Biol. 2024 Jun 10. doi: 10.1111/jfb.15828. Online ahead of print.


Visual signals are involved in many fitness-related tasks and are therefore essential for survival in many species. Aquatic organisms are ideal systems to study visual evolution, as the high diversity of spectral properties in aquatic environments generates great potential for adaptation to different light conditions. Flatfishes are an economically important group, with over 800 described species distributed globally, including halibut, flounder, sole, and turbot. The diversity of flatfish species and wide array of environments they occupy provides an excellent opportunity to understand how this variation translates to molecular adaptation of vision genes. Using models of molecular evolution, we investigated how the light environments inhabited by different flatfish lineages have shaped evolution in the rhodopsin gene, which is responsible for mediating dim-light visual transduction. We found strong evidence for positive selection in rhodopsin, and this was correlated with both migratory behavior and several fundamental aspects of habitat, including depth and freshwater/marine evolutionary transitions. We also identified several mutations that likely affect the wavelength of peak absorbance of rhodopsin, and outline how these shifts in absorbance correlate with the response to the light spectrum present in different habitats. This is the first study of rhodopsin evolution in flatfishes that considers their extensive diversity, and our results highlight how ecologically-driven molecular adaptation has occurred across this group in response to transitions to novel light environments.

Keywords: RH1; molecular evolution; protein evolution; visual ecology.