The sensitivity of lateral line receptors and their role in the behavior of Mexican blind cavefish (Astyanax mexicanus). Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • The characid fish species Astyanax mexicanus offers a classic comparative model for the evolution of sensory systems. Populations of this species evolved in caves and became blind while others remained in streams (i.e. surface fish) and retained a functional visual system. The flow-sensitive lateral line receptors, called superficial neuromasts, are more numerous in cavefish than in surface fish, but it is unclear whether individual neuromasts differ in sensitivity between these populations. The aims of this study were to determine whether the neuromasts in cavefish impart enhanced sensitivity relative to surface fish and to test whether this aids their ability to sense flow in the absence of visual input. Sensitivity was assessed by modeling the mechanics and hydrodynamics of a flow stimulus. This model required that we measure the dimensions of the transparent cupula of a neuromast, which was visualized with fluorescent microspheres. We found that neuromasts within the eye orbit and in the suborbital region were larger and consequently about twice as sensitive in small adult cavefish as in surface fish. Behavioral experiments found that these cavefish, but not surface fish, were attracted to a 35 Hz flow stimulus. These results support the hypothesis that the large superficial neuromasts of small cavefish aid in flow sensing. We conclude that the morphology of the lateral line could have evolved in cavefish to permit foraging in a cave environment.

publication date

  • March 15, 2014